DENVER – The superintendent of Denver Public Schools and Denver Public Health’s director pleaded Wednesday with people in Denver to follow the city and state’s public health guidelines, saying a failure to do so will further endanger schoolchildren’s ability to attend school in person.
DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova said the district would continue with in-person learning for early childhood through second grade for now, saying district and public health officials are “still seeing low transmission rates in schools.”
But she and Denver Public Health Director Dr. Bill Burman said it was incumbent on people to follow Denver’s latest public health order telling them not to interact with anyone from outside of their household and to stay at home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. to try to limit the spread of COVID-19 in order for in-person learning to continue for those age groups, and to be reinstated for other grades.
“The only way we’re going to be able to offer in-person learning — and the goal is to increase in-person — is if the entire community takes this seriously to turn the tide with COVID-19,” Cordova said in a press briefing Wednesday morning.
She acknowledged that working and living with the pandemic for all families, including herself, has led to COVID-19 fatigue, but said that in-person learning – particularly for the youngest students – was key to providing a proper education. She said that if the tide is not turned this winter, in-person learning in the spring semester for older students could also be at risk.
“I think it’s incumbent on all of us to do everything we can to get kids back in school. That means we’re all going to have to play our part,” Cordova said. “This is having lifetime repercussions on our students.”
Cordova said that about 100 central office staffers, including some campus safety officers, have been assigned to full-time responsibilities at schools and that other central office staffers, including herself, were working one day a week at schools.
Burman said Denver was averaging about 500 new cases per day and reiterated that the hospitalization trend in Denver and across the state was “worrisome.”
But he applauded the work by DPS on in-person learning, testing and tracing, saying, “I think it’s safe for people to be within schools.”
Cordova said there are an estimated 16,000 students in early childhood through second grade attending in-person classes still and the attendance rate was above 90% for elementary students. District-wide, among all students in the various types of learning environments, attendance is averaging about 88%, Cordova said.
Attendance was lower in schools with higher numbers of cases and among the Native student population, she added, saying there was a team dedicated to working with Native students and families, who have also been severely impacted by the pandemic.
Cordova said the goal of the district was still to offer in-person learning to all students who wish to go that route for the spring semester and said the district was looking at other districts that have successfully kept more students in classrooms for ideas to replicate. But stemming the sharp rise in cases and hospitalizations in the city will be the key, she said.
“I just want to say how critical it is for everyone in Denver to believe in the power of our community to turn the tide,” she said. “…In the absence of a change in direction with the trends with COVID, it is going to be exceedingly challenging to get more kids back in school. Frankly, it’s going to get harder to keep kids in school. And I think, as a community, the most important thing we can do is make the commitment to our students that their opportunities to learn in person is more important than an adult’s opportunity to hang out with friends.”