GOLDEN, Colo. — Jeffco Public Schools, which had planned to start the school year with in-person classes, will now begin with two weeks of remote learning before transitioning to a hybrid model, district officials announced Thursday.
The district made the change based on guidelines from the Colorado Department of Education this week and feedback from staff and the community, according to an email from superintendent Jason Glass.
Under the planned changes, all Jeffco students will begin school through remote classes on Aug. 24 and continue through Sept. 4. On Sept. 8, following Labor Day, elementary schools will open for 100% in-person learning, with the remote option still available.
Secondary schools, grades 6-12, will open on a hybrid schedule on Sept. 8, with alternating A/B groups of students switching between remote and in-person learning.
"This decision will allow us to better plan and prepare for in-person experiences, and to review the new health and safety procedures with students and families," Glass said. "It will also allow us greater time to prepare for a quality remote learning experience for those families who choose that option for their students."
The opening of schools on Sept. 8 "will be contingent on virus levels in our community," Glass said.
Thee Jefferson County Education Association, the teachers' union, said it was pleased with the change of plans Thursday.
"While we look forward to in-person instruction, there is a continued need to further flesh out the details in the current ReStart Jeffco plan and continue to correct gaps in the protective measures," the union said in a statement.
If Colorado reverts to a stay-at-home order, then all students will be in remote classes. If Colorado stays in the current safer-at-home phase, then Jeffco will carry out the in-person classes for elementary students and hybrid model for secondary schools. Only during the "Protect our Neighbors" phase would the entire district switch to 100% in-person classes.
An array of social distancing measures and safety guidelines were already going to be in place under Jeffco's plans for 100% in-person classes, including maintaining six feet of distance when possible and grouping students in cohorts.
For elementary schools, students will work in the same cohort all day. In secondary schools, students will be scheduled into smaller student groupings and take a maximum of four classes per day.
Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday if a Colorado school has a COVID-19 outbreak, there will then be a testing surge at the school to identify other cases, including testing every student in a cohort where a positive case is identified. Polis also said the state will provide one mask per week for every teacher in Colorado.
Last week, Denver Public Schools, the state's largest district, announced a delay in the start of school this year, along with plans to begin classes virtually.
Local public health agencies and local school districts will have the ultimate say in when and how public school will resume this fall and will have to utilized layered COVID-19 mitigation strategies to try to bring as many students and teachers back to in-person learning as is feasible, according to guidance released Monday by Colorado education and public health officials.
The much-awaited guidance will give the district superintendents and school boards, as well as local public health officials, framework from which to work on their own plans as the school year nears. Several metro-area districts have already released draft or finalized plans for resuming school but have said they are subject to change as the school year nears.
Under the guidance issued Monday, there will be baselines that all schools and districts need to meet across the state. But the guidance also sets up a framework for local public health agencies to work within certain phases the state has used for COVID-19 responses and apply them to schools as well: a stay-at-home, a safer-at-home, and a protect-our-neighbors phase.
But districts will develop and approve their fall plans unless local public health agencies are required to approve them. The guidance was developed by the state with input from educators and districts, among several others.
For all public schools and especially middle and high schools, according to the guidance, 6 feet of physical distancing between people is preferred, though at least 3 feet is recommended – especially among teachers and older staff. Schools will also have to create a seating chart for students to sit in assigned seats as much as possible.