DENVER — Denver Public Schools (DPS) will only offer remote learning for at least the first two weeks of school, which is set to begin Aug. 24.
DPS held a news conference Friday afternoon, where district officials said remote learning will continue until at least Sept. 8, at which time DPS officials said they will reevaluate based on the current situation in the state with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Superintendent Susana Cordova said K-12 teachers will return Aug. 10 for a week of training, and then use the week of Aug. 17 to connect with students and plan for remote learning.
"The soonest we will consider a gradual return to [in-person] learning is Sept. 8, just after Labor Day," Cordova said. "[We] will make that determination based on cases at that time."
DPS came to the decision after meeting with local health experts, who expressed concern over a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in Denver, said DPS Board of Education President Carrie Olson.
"We have heard...from health experts on what's happening...as cases rise and we see an upward trend," added Vice President Jennifer Bacon. "While Colorado's rise in cases has not been as dramatic [as elsewhere in the U.S.], we want to consider the health implications."
Cordova said DPS officials ultimately came to the decision that it's not safe to reopen schools with the amount of students and staff they'd originally been planning for.
"I share...a desire to have students back in the buildings," Cordova said. "But we want to make sure we're following expert guidance...[and] do our part to ensure the community is...safe."
Cordova also said the end of the 2019-20 school year helped the district learn and develop three plans — fully remote, a hybdrid plan and a full in-person plan.
"We are prepared to start the school year with [these] three strong plans we can use anytime," Cordova said.
District leaders said they are following the guidance of local health officials, and have asked health leaders to create a framework to help set a threshold for DPS to use in future decision-making. On Friday, district leaders could not offer specifics about when that framework might be ready, or how much notice parents will get if in-class learning resumes.
DPS had previously said it will push back the start of school by one week, to Aug. 24. A draft version of the plan for reopening included mask-wearing for students, smaller groups of essentially quarantined classes, frequent sanitizing and school buses at one-third of their normal occupancy.
DPS has a 61-page "District Implementation Plan" that is updated in real-time "based on newly available data and guidance from public health officials."
Asked how students will have access to materials needed for remote learning, Deputy Superintendent Mark Ferrandino said the district distributed approximately 57,000 electronic devices, such as iPads and Chromebooks, to students and "thousands of hot spots."
"Last spring we had a large effort to get technology into the hands of all our students, one device per student, not per family, and a large push to make sure there was reliable broadband service available," Cordova added.
Ferrandino also said DPS will continue to work to replace devices and distribute necessary materials, as needed.
DPS has more than 93,000 students and more than 10,000 employees.
DPS also announced it will – along with several other school districts in the state – partner with COVIDCheck Colorado, a social benefit enterprise of Gary Community Investments, to provide all staff access to COVID-19 testing, symptom tracking and tools to support public health department contact-tracing efforts.
The Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA), supports the decision to start remotely.
"We’ve heard from so many members that there is fear and extreme concern around the nuances of the in-person return to school plans," wrote DCTA President Tiffany Choi in an email to 9News.
"We appreciate the district discussions with DCTA around these issues and thank Superintendent Cordova for this decision that keeps our employees and students safe. Focusing our energy on a remote learning start to school is in line with the feedback we have received from our members, and we look forward to continuing discussions with the district about the upcoming school year."
"Seeing the uptick in cases in our state have been a concern to all of us," said Christina Medina, a DCTA member and second grade teacher.
"Social distancing is not going to be a thing if we go to full in-person learning. One of the biggest concerns [was], by doing that, we put not only students and families at risk, they put us at risk. We put our own families at risk."
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