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As COVID-19 remains prevalent, local schools take measures to keep in-person learning possible

In the case of Denver Public Schools, if remote learning were to be implemented as of now, it doesn't always involve an entire school switching to remote.

DENVER — Editor's note: In our 4 and 5 p.m. newscasts Wednesday, we reported 348 DPS teachers were out sick, but that number also includes teachers that were out due to a family member's illness. We have fixed that in the video above.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, schools in the Denver Metro are trying to do what they can to keep learning in person. 

"Because we know that's what's best for our students, not only their education but also their well-being," Denver Public Schools spokesperson Scott Pribble said on Wednesday.

He said the district has 15 schools in a remote learning situation on Wednesday. But that doesn't always mean it will involve an entire school. 

>> Video above: More Colorado children getting sick with COVID

"We have some schools where it's just our preschool or our fourth grade. We have some schools where it's the sixth and seventh grade and we have some schools that are completely remote right now," he said, adding that the impacts are typically just for a few days. 

Staffing shortages have also been part of the reasons for remote learning. The district's most recent reporting from Tuesday, January 5, showed that 348 out of their roughly 4,700 teacher and teacher leaders were "out due to their own illness or a family member's illness." 

However, the district cannot report what type of illness they're dealing with, meaning they can't report how many of the teachers have been out due to illness have COVID-19. Pribble later said that the number of teachers out  Tuesday due to illness is not that out of the ordinary.

"So when we have people that are out for extended periods due to illness, then we try to do everything we can to provide that safe learning environment with an increase in classroom experience. But when it gets to the point where we just can't do that in a safe manner, then we'll transition to the remote learning for a temporary, short time," Pribble said. 

"When the school leader makes the decision to transition to remote learning for a few days, then that decision is then vetted through the regional operational superintendent to make sure that they've done everything that they can do to ensure that safe learning and then that transition is made."

In the meantime, Pribble said that staff at the school district's central office downtown could step in on a volunteer basis and help fill the gap of any school staff shortage. 

"Obviously, many of the people that work here in central office are not certified teachers, and so but they can go in and help as paras and other support staff in the buildings," he said, adding an example. "It'd be something like I could go into a school building and work in the lunch cafeteria to just ensure that the teachers get the break that they need from and get ready for their afternoon lessons. And yet the students are supervised during that lunch time." 

Credit: Luis de Leon
Denver Public Schools' central office.

For Adams County School District 14, they canceled all school and district activities Thursday, January 6, out of an abundance of caution related to weather conditions and associated attendance challenges affected by the pandemic, according to a news release. 

However, Dr. Robert Lundin, the Executive Director of Communications and Special Projects at the district, said at last check, their projections show that they can cover between 80 and 90 percent of staffing absences. 

"So we were very cognizant from the minute that Omicron became more of a presence that we needed to be vigilant," he said Wednesday. "And then as we came back in January, we've been monitoring that as well to ensure continuity of learning for both students and for our educators."

He said if COVID-19 cases spike, they have a virtual platform at the ready but already offer a platform to some students whose parents prefer that option, primarily in the secondary levels. 

"We have some families that are taking us up on that option that ensures they're staying in the teaching and learning and in the district, but doing so in a manner that gives security to their families," Lundin said. 

Credit: FILE

In a letter to parents Monday, JeffCo Public Schools Superintendent Tracy Dorland laid out their COVID-19 guidelines coming out of winter break. 

"We want healthy students and staff, those who are not positive for COVID-19 or not symptomatic, to come to school daily. We are committed to safety and mitigation efforts that make that possible," the letter read in part. 

It went on to say that they are not considering districtwide delays to their return, nor do they plan to implement remote learning as an entire district. 

"However, we will consider remote instruction on a school-by-school basis should we have significant staffing shortages or not be able to operate in-person instruction effectively for other reasons," the letter read in part. "If the Omicron variant peaks over the next week as public health experts expect and we have to close schools or move to remote learning, we are optimistic that we will be able to return to in-person learning relatively quickly."

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