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Teachers and parents express ongoing concerns over back-to-school plans

DPS only large district not going in-person
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Posted at 6:08 PM, Jul 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-22 12:41:47-04

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DENVER -- As the beginning of school inches closer, concerns among families, teachers and students keep growing.

More teachers are pushing back on in-person learning, questioning their own safety.

Governor Jared Polis said teachers are not the only ones grappling with the choice between their careers and a risk to their health.

“This is really hard for everybody,” Polis said in an interview on Colorado Public Radio. “It's really hard for people who work in restaurants and retail trying to decide - is it worth risking my health or risking my job? It's hard for people across society. And, of course, that means it's hard for educators; it's hard for teachers. It's a difficult decision to make.”

We're now less than three weeks away from the beginning of a new school year, but what that looks like for students will depend on where they go to school. Some districts are offering in-person learning, Denver is all online to start and others are a hybrid of both.

The Colorado Education Association recently polled more than 13,000 teachers and parents and nearly 80 percent of members said they wouldn’t return because of safety concerns.

Less than 20 percent said they think districts can keep teachers and students safe.

And 55 percent of educators think the school year should start entirely online.

If there’s one certainty in this world - going back to school is going to look different this year.

The question is: What's the right way?

"That's the hard thing, right? Balancing what's best for education versus balancing what's best for everyone's health and safety,” said a DPS mom.

Most districts in Colorado seem committed to returning to class in-person by mid-August, with an option for online learning if parents prefer.

Denver Public Schools, however, has announced students won't return in-person until at least the day after Labor Day.

DPS board member Bradley Laurvick says DPS will not reopen to in-person learning in August citing rising COVID numbers, plus public pressure from the teacher's union and parents.

“Lots of different opinions and lots of different directions,” Laurvick said. “I have as many - 'start in-person today' e-mails as I have, 'Oh goodness, don't start in-person, ever,' right? There's a lot of voices, but those voices are impacted also by the current numbers."

The pressure from the teachers came in part because of sizzling hot classrooms.

"Just with how hot it was going to be and then adding to that - wearing masks, it doesn’t work,” said Rachel Barnes, an English second language teacher at Bradley International School, where there's no air conditioning.

Barnes says DPS has failed, for years, to address air conditioning issues in more than 40 schools district wide. And now, it’s costing kids valuable classroom time.

"They want to continue to push the start date earlier and earlier in August and yet, we don't have air conditioning," Barnes said.

Fourth grade math teacher Katie Allen questions the way DPS is making decisions and rolling out the announcements.

“It seems like a very secretive decision-making process," Allen said.

She's concerned about the district failing to meet the needs of families who don't have many options.

"There are going to be families that we do not meet their needs,” Allen said. “I'm still having to worry about my own family and my own health, and so I’m really scared that we can't meet the needs of our families and keep ourselves safe, also."

The governor raised eyebrows in that CPR interview suggesting teachers are no different than other professionals like nurses, doctors and waiters who go to work every day risking their health.

"Are you willing to take a little more health risk as we are across society, really in every different profession?" Polis said.

Polis said it's a tough choice and clarified on Tuesday that there is no right or wrong answer for teachers or parents.

"Many parents are just agonizing over this,” Polis said. “But at the end of the day, this, like a lot of things in life, is a very individualized decision. I think that most parents, like me, are relieved that their kids can be reasonably safe at school and want them to have that experience."

Which brings us back to parents like Amy Brenton – who is just hoping her oldest daughter, 6-year-old Ivy, will get to experience face-to-face learning sometime this year.

“I don't really know how remote kindergarten works,” Brenton said. “If it is safe and the school is open - we were leaning towards sending Ivy. Sending her to in-person school."