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5 DougCo schools return to remote learning after COVID-19 outbreaks

The Tri-County Health Department is directing five Douglas County Schools to transition to remote learning to combat the spread of the virus.

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — According to the district, five schools in the Douglas County School District (DCSD) will return to remote learning after a spike in COVID-19 cases led to multiple outbreaks over the past few weeks.

The Tri-county Health Department directed the following schools to switch to remote learning:

Mountain Vista transitioned to remote learning on Wednesday. Students and staff will return to in-person learning on April 21. 

Castle View, Rocky Heights and Sierra returned to remote learning on Friday, DCSD said.

Rock Canyon will hold in-person classes Monday before switching to remote learning on Tuesday. In-person classes at the school will resume on April 27.

According to the district, there were five separate COVID-19 outbreaks at Mountain Vista within the past two weeks. There were also more than five separate outbreaks within Rock Canyon High School, the district said.

These cases have resulted in isolations and quarantines involving a large number of students, said DCSD. The people who tested positive are in isolation, and the school has notified those who might have contacted those individuals.

The Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE) defines an outbreak as: 

Two or more confirmed COVID-19 cases among students/teachers/staff from separate households with onset within 14 days in a single classroom/cohort/activity OR with evidence of transmission in the school setting (including transportation to and from school and affiliated events).

"Well, I hate this. This is just awful," said Tri-County Health Executive Director, Dr. John Douglas. "I feared it would happen. It's hugely predictable we'd see this. I think the question now is, are schools doing everything they can to prevent transmission inside of schools? I think they are. Are there things we can do a better job in the community of preventing transmission? Maybe." 

Dr. Douglas said several schools have documentation of the UK variant, believed to be more contagious.

He said the health department is trying to balance the state's guidance with any local flexibility his team can offer.

"The schools will tell me, 'If the kids go home, yeah, they're going to be on their computer, but they're also going to get together with their friends. And we're still going to see transmission.' And I hear that loud and clear," Dr. Douglas said. "So what we're trying to figure out is, do we have latitude for local discretion? If we do have latitude, is there a better sweet spot to get to what everybody wants, which is, fewer sick people, more kids learning, and more people being able to live their lives as normally as possible?"

Kevin DiPasquale is a middle school teacher in Douglas County, as well as a parent. His school is not one of the five that moved to fully remote again, but his daughter is a student at one of the high schools that did.

"It's gut-wrenching when students can't be there," DiPasquale said. "It's gut-wrenching when you think about students going home, and maybe are positive or asymptomatic and can spread COVID. That opportunity for that to happen is great. And it's scary."

A district spokeswoman said Douglas County middle schools and high schools just returned to full in-person learning, five days a week, on March 22. 

The outbreaks are happening just as many teachers across Colorado are fully vaccinated. 

DiPasquale shared the frustration of balancing hope for progress with yet another setback.

"It's the disjointed feeling you have, just when you think things are moving ahead smoothly, all of a sudden, it's an immediate u-turn, and you take many steps back before you go forward," he said. "Your job is as much trying to help kids maintain composure and keeping moving ahead positively as it's helping them learn content. Content is great, but mental health is even greater."

Educators in other districts have the same concerns.

"We are starting to see, as we have come back to more full in-person learning, especially after spring break, a rise in some places of quarantines, number of classrooms or schools quarantining," said Amie Baca-Oehlert, President of the Colorado Education Association, which represents teachers around Colorado. "A high percentage of teachers across state have received their full vaccination, But what's happening with that is, even when teachers don’t have to quarantine, students still do. They haven't got the vaccine."

Baca-Oehlert encouraged people to stay vigilant with COVID-19 precautions, even outside of a school environment. She said community transmission risks bringing the virus into schools.

"I think one of the most disappointing things is people were really working hard, and still are to try to make plans for things like in-person graduation and end of year things that are so meaningful and important to students. And if we can't get things under control, that could jeopardize our ability to do those things," she said.

"If those things are important to us, and we know in-person is important, then we should all do our part to make sure that can happen."

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