DENVER — The superintendent of Denver Public Schools said the district is now planning for in-person learning for the 2020 fall semester.
DPS made this decision after receiving updated information from health experts, according to a letter from Superintendent Susana Cordova. Previously, the district was planning on a hybrid model — with some classes online and some in-person. On Thursday, the Metro Denver Partnership for Health (MDPH), a coalition of metro area local health agencies, released a report titled “COVID-19: Strategies for Schools,” which contained updated guidance on reopening schools for the fall semester.
MDPH cited the need for Colorado children to get back to school.
"With almost 9 million cases of COVID-19 diagnosed worldwide, several patterns relevant to school re-opening are beginning to emerge,” the report reads. “First, children appear to have lower rates of infection than do older persons and, when infection does occur, are much less likely to have serious complications than adults. Second, while children (including those not showing symptoms) can transmit COVID-19, emerging evidence indicates that children are not primary drivers of transmission and that school reopening is likely to have minimal impact on transmission between students or between students and staff."
DPS transitioned to remote learning in March.
“We are both excited to welcome our students and educators back to our schools and committed to doing it safely,” Cordova wrote in a letter. “We will strictly follow the health guidelines that were released.”
This means school will look different, she said. 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 at a news conference 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 as well.
In addition to the mask requirement for students and staff attending in-person classes, and Cordova said additional social distancing measures and the installation of plexiglass partitions will be among the other health measures put in place at schools.
Breakfast and lunch will be served in students' classrooms, there will be no communal supplies and there will be time made for frequent hand-washing and sanitization, the district said.
The MDPH report also outlines backup plans should a spike in COVID-19 appear.
Cordova’s said this "would require us to move a group to remote learning. We will follow the health department requirements for how we will handle any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our schools."
She said that if any students or faculty test positive for COVID-19, there will be a process in place to trace and quarantine people who were exposed to the virus for 14 days. The district will also follow CHSAA guidelines for athletics, which will start back on July 6.
In her letter, Cordova said she understands some families will not be comfortable with sending their children to school.
“To address this concern, we are offering a full-time online option for next school year for kindergarten through 12th grade,” she said.
Anybody who is interested in the online option is asked to fill out a survey by July 10 to help provide information to DPS about bus transportation needs.
School Board Vice President Jennifer Bacon said that officials would be watching closely how the virus spreads in coming weeks and months to determine if changes will need to be made or if the district would need to move back to a hybrid plan, which a survey found most parents said was not their first choice.
“We must remain nimble to any changing circumstances,” Bacon said.
From their part, the state's largest teachers union voiced concerns following the announcement.
"Although our DCTA members miss their students, they are extremely concerned about potentially putting employee, student and community lives in jeopardy," said Tiffany Choi, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA). "We have received many calls and emails voicing our members’ fears. DCTA is committed to make sure that any kind of reopening will be done with safety as the first priority and the details will need to be discussed further with the district."
Most DPS schools reopen Aug. 17.