Jeffco to bring middle and high school students back to classrooms in late January

No students are in the hallway at Lakewood High School on March 16, 2020 in Lakewood, Colorado.
Secondary students in Jeffco Public Schools have been learning remotely since mid-November. (RJ Sangosti / The Denver Post)

Jeffco Public Schools will open its middle and high schools to students starting Jan. 25, just one week after bringing elementary students back to the classroom, the district announced Friday.

This is an earlier return for secondary students than district officials had expected in December. They previously said that secondary students would return to buildings when the county sees consistently improving COVID trends and if elementary schools remain operationally stable, with the earliest possible date being Feb. 1. 

Interim Superintendent Kristopher Schuh said in an email to the community that several factors influenced the decision to bring secondary students back sooner, including overall trends in COVID cases, “a strong desire of both students and families to return to in-person learning,” a larger pool of substitute teachers that will allow the district to better manage staffing issues, and greater availability of coronavirus testing.

After starting the second semester with remote learning, Jeffco elementary students will return to classrooms five days a week on Tuesday, and middle and high school students will return to classrooms on a hybrid schedule the following Monday.

Around the state, districts that have been remote since November are bringing students back in phases. In Jeffco, the state’s second-largest district, secondary students have been fully remote since the week before Thanksgiving, and elementary students have been remote since just after Thanksgiving break.

Jefferson County currently has around 488 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people, slightly below the state average, and a test positivity rate around 6.1%. Statewide, COVID cases have increased since late December, but it’s not clear yet if the post-Christmas bump will turn into a sustained increase or level off.

Superintendents have said they believe schools can operate safely even at high case levels. But somewhere between 500 and 700 cases per 100,000, frequent quarantines create staffing shortages that make it difficult to sustain in-person learning.

In an effort to address those problems, state public health officials have revised quarantine guidelines and Gov. Jared Polis made rapid COVID tests available to school districts.

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