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School district leaders react to governor's optimism about fall semester

Monday, Governor Jared Polis told the State Board of Education he believes 'most schools will be back largely back to normal'.

Not too long ago, school district leaders were preparing for a likely return in the fall with some students back in the buildings and others remote learning. Then, Monday afternoon, Governor Jared Polis said something interesting.

"Most likely and I express a strong sense of optimism, most schools will be back largely in a normal way," Polis said.

With fall plans still in flux, 9NEWS reached out to Metro area school district leaders to get their reactions.

Denver Public Schools provided this statement:

“At this time, we have proposed a plan based on guidance from health experts and local officials and on feedback from students, staff and parents. Our plan to reopen is based on health conditions and guidance from our health experts. We have also l emphasized throughout the COVID crisis the importance of being agile and ready to adjust as health conditions change.

We are eager to welcome students back into our buildings and will do so with the overriding priority being the safety and health of our students and staff.”

Douglas County Schools superintendent Thomas Tucker released this statement:

"We continue to closely monitor the recommendations of state leaders and our local health partners as we plan for Fall 2020. We are in the midst of our Fall 2020 Task Force planning meetings, where we are gathering feedback, questions, and concerns from our community. To my knowledge, we are the only school district engaging our community from the start of creating our Fall 2020 plan. Our community is helping craft the plan, versus simply providing feedback on a plan that was created by the school district. We are incredibly proud of this inclusive collaborative endeavor and I believe it will lead to a very comprehensive re-entry and recovery plan that addresses the needs of each of our 68,000 students. As we move through the coming weeks, we look forward to solidifying our plan for welcoming our students back in the Fall."

RELATED: Colorado Board of Education meets with Gov. Polis, state health department as they piece together plans for fall

9NEWS sat down and talked with Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jason Glass and an area superintendent with the Boulder Valley School District, Dr. Margaret Crespo.

(Editor's note: Answers have been edited for context and clarity.)

9NEWS: What did you think of the Governor's comment to the State Board of Education?

Crespo: Our hope is absolutely that we are able to resume in the fall and have our students back face-to-face. Our teachers and our parents certainly miss those connections, so we'd really look forward to that opportunity to have that happen.

It felt a little bit like a breath where we can say yes, keep planning for that full return.

Glass: It doesn’t surprise me. I think every school leader in the state is working toward that outcome right now. We all would like to have all of our students back 100 percent in-person learning, but we also know that we have to take every prudent, public health measure to protect our students or staff and our community.

Do you believe the data surrounding COVID-19 supports more students returning to in-person instruction?

Glass: The data is encouraging. One of the limitations has been how many people can we have in hospitals and so far in Colorado, we haven’t overwhelmed our hospitals with COVID cases. So, that's one of the things that we look at along with infection rates.

Crespo: Our task force, our group, we're constantly looking at what's happening in other places. As schools are reopening around the world, we're monitoring what does that look like? What are the strategies and the systems that they put into place? How are they successful? And, frankly, connecting with them.

We certainly want to make that we're keeping our staff, our kids, our community healthy. And, making sure we're contributing to a healthy entrance.

Are you prepared to contain COVID-19 if it emerges at a school?

Crespo: Our goal is certainly to keep everybody safe and we are very lucky with our relationships with Boulder County Health, Tri-County Health, Broomfield. We definitely are working with area superintendents in some of our Metro area districts as well. So, we've been able to come alongside all of the districts saying, what are the parameters that we're looking at? What are the systems that we want to put into place to keep people safe? What are the considerations that we need to make if a school closes?

Glass: I think we should expect that happen and so we have to take every precaution we can to keep that outbreak from being more widespread than it possibly has to. So, doing things like creating smaller groupings of students within schools, using every screening or precaution that we can. Limiting how students move in buildings, changing the traffic flows and how common spaces are used. Those are all methods of limiting the virus outbreak.

Do you believe the Governor is being overly optimistic about the fall semester?

Glass: We all want to restore in-person learning to the greatest extent we possibly can. We just have to be really careful that we don’t overcorrect or open things up too quickly.

Crespo: We need some optimism. So, hope is what we need and the desire to go back for our families and for ourselves is key. We're in this business because we want to make a difference in kids' lives.

I think that we need optimism. So, I'm good with it. I think it was a great approach to move us forward.

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