DENVER — The decision to reopen Colorado schools this fall hasn't been made, but the Colorado Department of Education released draft guidelines for districts to start planning for the return of students for in-person learning.
The framework and toolkit for district leaders were unveiled during a virtual conference Tuesday hosted by Colorado Commissioner of Education Dr. Katy Anthes and representatives from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The program is still in draft status and is seeking feedback from district leaders, but offers districts a starting point to begin planning, education officials said.
If the go-ahead is given to resume in-person learning, the school year will likely look different. But Anthes was unable to say exactly how different it would be or when a decision will be made.
"We know everybody wants the bottom line answer. I can't give you that full complete answer just yet," Anthes said. "We need to see how the next several weeks progress in the state of Colorado. Our goal, the governor's goal, the CDPHE's goal, is to start in-person learning in the fall, but we need to see how the data progresses."
The toolkit is organized into several categories: "health and safety," "conditions for learning," "policy and funding," and "contacts." It will be updated over the next couple of weeks with templates and checklists for district leaders.
The guidelines recognize that significant physical distancing will likely continue through fall, and in-class instruction will need to be flexible.
Some of the toolkits' suggestions include staggering school schedules to limit the number of students in a building. Also, spacing desks 6 feet apart to comply with state health guidelines. Another possibility is mixing remote learning and small-group in-person learning.
Anthes acknowledged that not every school district in Colorado is the same. Rural districts may have different needs compared to urban or suburban districts.
"This is a series of options and considerations for districts to think about," she said. "This is an evolving situation with the virus still here. The school year will be affected by public health orders. Incident rate and treatment options could change. We hope to have a more detailed community-based approach for regions. It's not a one size fits all."
All of Colorado's 64 school districts closed their buildings and embraced remote learning options at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak. But Anthes said in-person learning is crucial for the education process.