DENVER — Students within Colorado's largest school district will learn remotely for the entire first quarter, according to the Denver Public Schools (DPS).
DPS had previously pushed back its start date to Aug. 24 and said they would continue with remote learning until early September. Now students will not return to in-person until Oct. 16 at the earliest.
In a letter to parents, DPS said it would also be working to bring back small groups of students "identified as high-priority for in-person learning" as soon as Sept. 8.
High-priority students were identified as those who require special learning, students who use English as a second language and younger students in kindergarten or below.
"We are considering bringing [early childhood education] students and other high-priority students back first," DPS wrote in the letter, adding that it would share details soon on how that would work.
"Our overriding priority throughout this challenging time has been – and continues to be – safeguarding the health and well-being of our community," DPS said in the letter. "And the value driving our decisions is equity. Families don't feel safe, and the pandemic is disproportionately impacting communities of color.
"We must focus on doing remote learning well for all of our students, and we believe we’ll need to return to this option during the school year in response to changing health conditions. This will give us the runway to ensure we have implemented the improvements in remote learning, based on what we learned from the spring, and fine-tune them now."
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 fast and accurate COVID-19 testing, symptom tracking and tools to support public health department contact-tracing efforts.
DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova on Wednesday afternoon answered questions in a virtual forum about plans for the fall. She said teachers are being asked to have more live sessions during remote learning because students are more engaged, and office hours for teachers are a priority to provide individual and small-group support.
Cordova added that students will still have access to meals at schools and the district is working to distribute Chromebook laptops to students, as well as ensure families have access to high-speed internet.
Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) President Tiffany Choi released this statement on the decision to extend remote learning:
"DCTA supports Superintendent Cordova and the DPS School Board’s decision to extend remote learning until October. We need to prioritize people’s lives and focus on quality instruction, instead of scrambling to open before the community and the schools are ready. Extending remote learning allows more time to collaborate around meticulous plans for in-person reopenings. We appreciate that the superintendent has been responsive to the voice of educators and look forward to our continued dialogue with the district."
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: DPS officials announce remote learning for first 2 weeks of school
DPS is following the lead of Aurora Public Schools (APS), which also announced that all students would learn remotely for the first quarter.
DPS said previously that they plan to gradually return to in-person classes with an option for families to choose to continue online learning instead.
DPS' 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.
Last week, DPS joined a lawsuit that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. The suit accuses U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos of illegally changing the rules when allocating part of the $13.2 billion in funds from the CARES Act to private K-12 schools.
In a sit-down with 9NEWS, Superintendent Cordova said in part that DPS learned a lot from having to switch to virtual learning at the end of the 2019-20 school year.
"We've learned a lot of lessons, and we want to make sure it's a really strong option for families that select the 100 percent virtual option with regular school times, regular live classes, assignments that are graded, grades for coursework, feedback on a regular basis -- all of the things that we know help kids thrive," Cordova said.
> Hear from DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova in the video below:
DPS families must now adjust, again, to the latest district plan.
"I understand, but I'm disappointed, and kind of really wondering what I'm going to do as a mom," said Jen Voss, a parent of two DPS students.
Voss and her husband both work full-time and, like many families, are struggling to balance competing demands of work, childcare, and remote-learning.
"Mom and dad have a big role. We keep our kids healthy, we try to teach them morals. We try to provide them with structure and direction," she said. "I never intended to be the person responsible for their intellectual well-being. I was very happy to enjoy public school and the professionals that work in public school and do a good job."
Voss' children are six and eight years old. She said they miss socializing with their friends and other students, as well as canceled sports. Voss said remote learning was a different experience for each kid.
"My older kid, who is a rising third-grader, she was like, 'Hey, I'll do online learning again.' She thought it was pretty neat to be on the computer. It was a much greater challenge for my younger son to focus and obtain knowledge from a device," she said. "I worry they are too little to really obtain the skills, knowledge, reinforcement from the remote instruction... They’re probably fine in the long run, but it’s a worry."
Finley Sullivan will be in fourth grade at Asbury Elementary this year. She said remote learning could be tough sometimes.
"It was pretty confusing," said the nine-year-old. "You don’t write on paper, you type on a computer and that’s pretty hard."
Finley and her little sister, Margot, have been attending camp this summer, so she said they have practice wearing masks and have been able to visit with friends.
Once she starts school again, she said she wonders if she'll ever meet her fourth-grade teacher in person. She has some guesses about how long remote-learning will last.
"I bet they're going to think its two months but its probably going to be (giggles), like, 18,000 months!"
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