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Denver educators hold vigil asking for better in-person learning plan

The vigil is scheduled to happen at the Denver Public Schools administration building at 4 p.m. Thursday.

DENVER — A group of Denver teachers and community members held a vigil at the Denver Public Schools (DPS) administration building to ask the district for a better plan for returning to in-person learning.

Organizer Chris Christoff said they use the word vigil because they believe there is a human toll to returning to in-person learning with DPS' youngest students on Monday. 

"We have not stuck to any data, we’re not listening to any data," said Christoff, an elementary school teacher. "We’re just acting at whims right now and that’s not okay for my students, for our students, for our community, for our educators. It’s not what’s going to keep us safe." 

Christoff cited the COVID-19 dashboard created by DPS in partnership with Denver Public Health.

Currently out of the three metrics of data they present, only the trends in positive cases meet the standard. The positivity rate needs improvement, and the total number of positive cases don't meet the standard. 

In an emailed statement from a DPS, a spokesperson wrote "School districts in the Denver metro area and the Metro Denver Partnership for Health worked together to develop a common set of thresholds that align to the state of Colorado’s new COVID-19 dial. These new, aligned thresholds focus on the incidence rate in the broader community, which our experience has shown is the best indicator of how feasible it is to keep schools open for in-person learning." 

Those new standards are not yet available to the public.

At Thursday evening's event, a limited number of masked volunteers collected messages to deliver to the district. 

The group is calling for the district's plan to include action for when community spread of COVID-19 increases, access to personal protective equipment (PPE) for students and a detailed plan for vaccine distribution.

“Too many times the leaders in our district have twisted our words or muted our concerns," said Nik Arnoldi, teacher at Escalante-Biggs Academy. "We want DPS to hear us and know that we want to keep our students, ourselves and all of our families safe from this virus. We are here so those in power will listen to us.”

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The district's current plan is to return all early-childhood education through fifth grade students to in-person learning on Jan. 11, the district said on its website

All secondary SPED Centers and Newcomer Centers also return to in-person learning at that time. Other secondary students continue in remote learning.

Secondary students begin a gradual phase-in to in-person learning Jan. 19-29. All students whose families selected in-person learning will back in schools on Feb. 1. 

DPS will continue to offer, throughout the second semester, the 100% remote-learning option for all K-12th grade students whose families chose that option.

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