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Colorado schools change approach to combating COVID

Boulder Valley is scaling back cleaning and quarantines, but is still confident in its measures against the Delta variant.

LAFAYETTE, Colo. — As schools are back for the fall semester, the COVID-19 Delta variant poses a different threat to students and principals like Cameo DeDominces.

"I think we have to look back on what we've learned over the last year," DeDominces said.

She runs Ryan Elementary STEAM School in Lafayette with 500 students back in classrooms, 150 more than at its peak last year.

"We were sitting here a year ago not knowing what to expect bringing kids into school," DeDominces said. "I think what scares me is the thought of what if."

What if the Delta variant poses more problems than before?

"What if COVID hits really close to home?" DeDominces said.

One year later, DeDominces believes teachers and administrators are one year smarter.

"I think we learned the things that we could ease up on a little bit to make it more manageable on everybody," DeDominces said.

She said school staff is doing less, but what they are doing is what's working.

"We feel very confident going into this school year," Stephanie Faren, Boulder Valley School District Director of Health Services, said.

Faren said school buildings will still be regularly disinfected, but it will not look like last year.

"Our cleaning is still very high. It's not to the extent that we had last year where we were wiping everything down between every single student," Faren said.

RELATED: Pfizer asks US to allow COVID shots for kids ages 5 to 11

DeDominces said COVID was not being spread through common surfaces.

"The bathrooms don't have to be cleaned and checked once an hour. Now, they're deep cleaned a couple times a day," DeDominces said.

Faren said district employees are working more efficiently and more intelligently.

"We've realized that it's okay to sit on a rug together," Faren said. "Not every pencil has to be wiped down."

Not every student has to be quarantined either. Faren said that's the new practice if someone does get COVID even with the Delta variant.

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"Developed a plan with a our local public health department to really give us an opportunity since all of our students are masked to keep kids in school as much as possible and so our quarantining is very minimal right now," Faren said.

Students have assigned seats in the lunchroom and teachers keep track of close contacts in the classroom at the elementary school level where kids cannot get the COVID vaccine, according to DeDominces. She said the plan is to isolate the fewest number of students possible if someone is sick.

"I'd rather start with being more loose because kids need to be in school," DeDominces said.

Individual students who are out will work with their teachers to make up for lost assignments, a different plan than last year. But, it is the same as it was pre-pandemic. If an entire classroom or school has to be quarantined, the district is prepared to go back to temporary remote learning.

"Having more students in classrooms, you know, we just have to think creatively and our teachers and our district has been doing that," Faren said.

At the high school level, last year's separation of students in groups called cohorting is gone. Faren said it's not necessary, based on observations from the last school year.

"We did not see any significant spread in our classrooms," Faren said.

She credits masks, hand-washing, and filtered ventilation systems with being the most effective in preventing the spread of coronavirus.

"We feel that this was based on all of those mitigation efforts," Faren said. "Where we saw transmission was usually within athletic activities that were indoors where there was a lot of heavy breathing."

That was last year. This year, doctors have said the Delta variant is more contagious and can have a greater impact on kids.

"I worry every single day, are we doing enough?" DeDominces said.

DeDominces does believe what they are doing now is still effective against any form of COVID and that the school can quickly pivot to be more restrictive if COVID cases go up.

"We don't know a lot about the Delta Variant yet, but we can't live in fear every day and we won't know unless we try it," DeDominces said.

Faren said the district is ready for whatever COVID brings this year.

"As we go along and we see significant differences because of the Delta variant, then we'll re-adjust with them. We'll learn as we go along," Faren said.

The learning never stops and DeDominces promises to be ready if things get worse once again.

"Yes, we're doing a little less, but now we know what we need to do if we need to tighten things up a little bit," DeDominces said.

RELATED: JeffCo Schools forced to limit hot lunches due to worker shortages

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