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'No easy answers': DPS scales back in-person learning amid rising COVID-19 trends

Grades 3-5 will stay open for in-person instruction through Friday, Oct. 30, then move to remote learning until the Thanksgiving holiday.

DENVER — Within just weeks of returning to in-person learning, a majority of students in the Denver Public School District (DPS) will shift back to 100% remote learning through Thanksgiving.

"Our efforts to gradually reopen our school to educate children is absolutely the right thing to do, and at the same time, we know that we need to balance this with the needs of our community to help drive COVID rates down," said DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova.

Cordova was joined by Denver Health’s Dr. Steven Federico during an 11 a.m. briefing on Wednesday where they discussed the district's plans and current health conditions.

"I think our students are losing out on the opportunity to have in-person because of our failure as a community to keep COVID rates down," Frederico said. "We need to work harder as a community to come together, work together to do the things we know work to drive the rates down so that we have fewer cases of COVID coming from the community into our schools promoting disruption. There's no question our students will be better off when we can get them back in person."

Students in the state's largest school district began the year with remote learning but and its youngest students just began transitioning to in-person learning. Next week students in grades three through five will be back in remote learning. Younger students will continue with in-person class instruction.

"We know that all elementary students benefit from in-person instruction and support but at the same time, we are concerned that our overall community trend requires us to shift more of our staff and students into remote learning as hard as it is."

The change will be in place through Thanksgiving when they'll evaluate current health conditions and decide how to move forward.

"Our greatest hope is that everyone in our community takes very seriously the health orders to help drive these COVID cases down," Cordova said.

DPS announced the decision to scale back in-person on Tuesday after Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced the city is moving from Safer At Home: Level 2 to the more restrictive Safer At Home: Level 3 as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise across the state. Students in grades six to 12 will remain in remote learning through the end of the semester.

"The health conditions for older students are unlikely to improve enough before the end of the semester to allow for safe in-person schooling without the risk of frequent disruptions from quarantining," Cordova said.

RELATED: Denver moves to more restrictive COVID-19 phase

"Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been no easy answers," Cordova said. "I know there are some people sitting in schools feeling very cheated of the opportunity for in-person learning because their school may not have had very much impact from COVID-19 or quarantining."

Cordova said over the past 48 hours, the district has been "closely examining our DPS data from our time offering in-person schooling and having thorough conversations with our partners at Denver Health, our Board of Education, and our educators about the best plan going forward." 

Cordova said with this latest shift they're going to offer additional remote learning support and said they would share information about the locations and hours in the coming days.

Details about the changes are outlined below.

Early childhood education (ECE) through second grade will continue to attend full-time, in-person learning. Why? 

Cordova: Our youngest students struggle the most with remote learning. These are our developing readers, and in-person support is absolutely critical to ensuring they are getting a solid foundation for their education. We’re also seeing that in-person conditions for these students are low risk. ECE-second grade active cases for students are .14%. The COVID risks for students in the early elementary grades are also very low, according to our health partners.

Grades 3-5 will stay open for in-person instruction through Friday, Oct. 30, and students will have the opportunity to gather supplies to prepare for remote learning. These grades will shift to remote learning on Monday, Nov. 2 and will stay in remote learning until the Thanksgiving holiday, when we will reassess health conditions. Why? 

Cordova: We know that, while all elementary school children benefit from in-person instruction and support, we are concerned that the overall community trend requires us to shift more of our staff and students to remote learning. And we have strengthened our remote-learning systems and support in anticipation of needing to shift away from in-person schooling in response to changing health conditions. 

Grades 6-12 will remain in remote learning through the end of the semester in December. Why? 

Cordova: Moving into remote for the remainder of the semester will allow our middle and high school teachers and students to focus on quality remote learning. Health conditions are unlikely to improve enough before the end of the semester to allow for safe, in-person schooling in our middle and high schools.

Newcomer Centers, Remote-Learning Support Centers, and Special Education Center programs will continue to offer full-time, in-person learning for all grades through the rest of the first semester. Why? 

Cordova: Students in our centers are some of the highest-need students who desperately need and require in-person support to be able to meaningfully engage in their learning. These centers have very small class sizes that can operate within health guidelines.

"There is real fear, anxiety and concern on all sides, regardless of where you stand on this issue -- parents and students who desperately want their children to be in school, teachers and leaders who are concerned about their health and safety," she added. "There is no easy answer, but I want you to know that this balance--serving the students who pose the least risk and need in-person learning the most-- while providing high-quality remote services to all others, is the balance that will serve us best in this difficult time."

Parents should contact their school directly with questions, or connect with the Family and Community Helpline at 720-423-3054 or face@dpsk12.org.

RELATED: Arapahoe County moves to Level 2 COVID-19 restrictions

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