DENVER – Denver Public Schools is considering pushing the first day of school for most schools back a week to Aug. 24 to give teachers more time to prepare and to cut down on the number of hot August school days, the superintendent wrote to teachers Wednesday morning.
Superintendent Susana Cordova says the district expects to share more details about a possible delayed start next Monday, July 20.
“This delay would increase the amount of time teachers have to prepare for a highly unusual schools year – and decrease the number of hot August days that our students and staff will be in classrooms,” Cordova wrote in the letter to teachers.
The letter comes the morning after Douglas County Public Schools said it would delay its start by a week, pushing the first day of classes back to Aug. 17 from Aug. 10.
“This delay will afford all DCSD staff the opportunity to train and prepare for a safe and healthy in-person learning environment,” Douglas County district officials wrote in a letter to parents Tuesday.
School officials in some of California’s larger districts have already said they will begin the year with remote learning.
Cordova wrote to teachers that they still currently believe they can start the year with in-person learning, as they said last month they would try to do, but are staying nimble in their planning after hearing “many questions and concerns about returning to school.”
“In consultation with our health partners, we believe that the current rate of spread in our community does allow us to continue forward with a plan for in-person learning, but please know that we are monitoring the ever-changing environment daily,” Cordova wrote.
“We are making contingency plans should the rates of COVID infection increase to a point where health officials recommend that in person attendance is not feasible,” she added.
Cordova wrote that the district was considering a staggered start schedule “in which schools would all begin virtually and phase in in-person attendance gradually.”
DPS Deputy Superintendent of Operations Mark Ferrandino said Wednesday afternoon that there are more than 50 schools that do not have air conditioning, and the extra week would give teachers more time to prepare for in-classroom learning and an extra week for temperatures to cool off.
He said that it was unlikely that schools would be able to utilize swamp coolers or fans in the schools without A/C, which was one of the reasons the consideration is being made. The district has spent $5 million to upgrade air filters in HVAC systems, he added.
DPS nursing staff has been working closely with public health officials to develop the protocols for the fall, and the district expects to have more guidance in coming days and weeks, Ferrandino said.
Ferrandino said that the district was in talks to get teachers and adult staffers tested, similar to what Aurora Public Schools has already committed to.
Ferrandino reiterated that students attending class in-person would be put in “cohorts” or groups of students they mostly stay with throughout the day.
When asked why the district was now going back to a possible hybrid model and mixing online and in-person learning, Ferrandino said it had to do with “what’s going on in the community” with spread of the virus.
He said he as a parent is nervous just as others are, but that the district was taking scientific health recommendations from experts to get students back to their ideal learning setting as safely as possible.
“But I will say, the only constant is change right now, and we will continue to monitor what is going on and listen to local health officials,” Ferrandino said. “If something changes and we see a large spike of cases in Colorado, that will change what we’re going to do.”
The district is asking teachers to email questions and feedback to them.
Cordova said at a news conference last month that there will be options for students or staffers who do not feel comfortable returning to in-person learning to conduct full remote learning for the schoolyear.
Under the previously-announced plan, all students and staff will undergo a health screening before or as they arrive at school. Masks will be required inside the school. Classes will be adjusted to keep groups of students together and to limit how much they move around the building. The school will not hold any large gatherings, such as assemblies.
Cordova said in her Wednesday letter that discussions were still ongoing about plans for the fall restart.
“These conversations are ongoing, and we are grateful for the many partners who are making this possible,” she wrote. “We will continue to update you on details.”