BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. — The Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) after planning to start school in phase 3 has updated its plans and will now start in phase 1, which is fully remote learning.
The district made the announcement Tuesday, citing data, kids' ability to transmit COVID-19 and an influx of people to the area as students return to the University of Colorado-Boulder (CU Boulder).
"After analyzing the data, we do not feel confident that we would be able to move forward with the hybrid model, nor would it be safe or stable to do so," BVSD's website says. "The last thing we want to do is have students moving in and out of in-person learning because of confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 in our schools and community. It would be very disruptive, as we have seen in other school districts that have already returned."
Last month, the school board agreed to push the start date back a week to Aug. 26, which is still the plan. BVSD said phase 1 will continue through Sept. 22 -- calling it the "improved home learning."
One of the main factors in the decision was the number of teachers who filed exemptions from teaching in the fall because they or someone they live with or know is at high risk for COVID-19, according to Randy Barber, the communications director for BVSD.
"Nearly 300 teachers applied for exemptions with the district," Barber said. "That number was pretty high for the number of kids coming back – doesn’t make the hybrid model possible."
The district said they are working with staff, families and community members to look at priorities to make phase 1 accessible and equitable for all students. One of those groups is called the working advisory committee that will start working in the next week and deliver its recommendations to the board of education on Sept. 22.
"We're hoping this group will come up with innovative ideas to get our most at-risk students back to in-person learning," added Barber.
> Video above: A look at the Back-to-School Learning Drive, which helps supply kids with supplies for in-person and remote learning.
According to the district's plan, phase 1 is considered the most restrictive situation and all learning is done remotely. Additionally:
- All buildings closed.
- No transportation services.
- Emergency childcare only.
- Emergency food services only.
Mondays will still be "Learning Launch" days, BVSD said. Teachers, who will be using the day to plan, will provide students with videos and exercises that will prepare them for the rest of the week’s learning.
The district is also looking at ways to support learning pods in the community. BVSD said these groups aren't home schooling, but they can help fill the gap of online learning.
"We believe it's an innovative solution and we will work to support and encourage those learning pods in our district," Barber said. "We want to partner with these groups to offer academic resources or referrals and additional training to encourage equity."
The district said they know many students come from working families. "Our hearts are with these kids that have parents that both work, so we are working on providing childcare where kids will have a quiet place to learn and still be supported with remote learning.
"We'd all like this to end and get kids back to schools," said Barber. "But, it has to be safe for everyone for us to do that."
BVSD's website says Boulder Valley Education Association recently surveyed their membership and found that 2/3 of those who responded "are experiencing a great deal of personal stress when considering returning to work in (originally planned) Phase 3."
One-third of families in the district had also opted out of in-person learning.
BVSD Superintendent Dr. Rob Anderson in a meeting last month told the school board there is not a clear plan yet for if/when there is a COVID-19 outbreak in a school. He said 90 teachers had approved exemptions to teach online only and another 100 had asked for the exemption. Updated numbers show 300 teachers now have exemptions.
Following the presentation, board members shared concerns about opening schools in phase 3. One member felt more comfortable starting school in phase 1 or 2 – which is now the case – while another was concerned about the number of teachers wanting exemptions.
It's unclear how long phase 1 will last; a working advisory group made up of district teachers, parents and community members will be working collaboratively with the district to propose possible in-person options and will report back to the Board of Education at its Sept. 22 meeting.
The district is offering paid child care for family who cannot stay home while kids are in school. More information will be available on the district's childcare website.
Many districts across the state have also changed plans to begin the school year remotely.
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Colorado Guide