Jeffco Public Schools announced Thursday that it will start the upcoming academic year with all-remote learning through at least Labor Day, the second Colorado district to delay students’ return to the classroom.
Denver Public Schools, the largest district in the state with more than 90,000 students, announced last week it would start off the 2020-21 school year with all-remote learning and then reassess.
Jeffco, the state’s second-largest school district, just weeks ago was expecting to start the fall semester Aug. 24 with all of its students in classrooms. Now students will study remotely at least through Sept. 4.
“The opening of schools on Sept. 8 with in-person and hybrid options for Jeffco Public Schools will be contingent on virus levels in our community,” the district said in a statement. “Depending on how COVID-19 is spreading in our community, we will move between remote learning, in-person or hybrid learning, and fully in-person learning.”
Students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade will have the option of either attending classes totally in person or completely remote.
Students in grades six through 12 are set to be on a hybrid schedule with alternating days of in-person classes. Those students, however, will have the option of learning fully remote.
“There are no perfect options before us,” Superintendent Jason Glass wrote in a letter to families. “There are also no options that we expect everyone to agree with completely. What we have put forth here represents a balanced solution that puts the educational experiences of Jeffco’s children first, honors the wishes of families, and responds to the concerns of staff members.”
Glass added: “I wish our circumstances and options were different, but they are not. For the sake of Jeffco’s children, now is the time to work together to implement this effort with quality and fidelity.”
School districts across Colorado are struggling to make plans for the upcoming school year as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise. Teachers are wary of returning to their classes because of the risks associated with the disease.
The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union, surveyed its members and said it found 53% prefer remote-only teaching and 8% prefer in-person-only instruction for the upcoming school year.
CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert said teachers may not return to work if their safety requests aren’t met.
All Jeffco Public Schools students and staff will be required to wear masks or face coverings during in-person learning, the district said, though there will be medical exemptions offered. Hand washing and sanitizing will also be required at regularly scheduled times during the school day, according to district officials.
The district said it will also cohort students to prevent outbreaks among students, teachers and staff.
“The district will provide for rapid availability testing for symptomatic staff and students or those who believe they were exposed to the virus,” Jeffco Public Schools said in a bulletin to parents. “The district will also reimburse employees for out-of-pocket expenses they incur for private testing.”
The Jeffco teacher union, Jefferson County Education Association, has been pushing for the district to delay its start to in-person classes. The union said a survey of its members revealed that 75% of teachers prefer returning with either a 100% online or hybrid model in the fall.
On Thursday, Jefferson County Education Association President Brooke Williams said while the teacher union is pleased the district delayed the start of in-person instruction, gaps remain in the ReStart JeffCo plan.
“We strongly believe that school health and safety is community health and safety and we must continue to plan, adjust and evaluate our path forward as we face the COVID-19 health crisis,” she wrote in a statement posted to the union’s Facebook page.
In Douglas County, the start of school has been delayed five days to Aug. 17. The school board wants students in the classroom five days a week and will hold an an all-day meeting Saturday to consider the logistics.
Meanwhile, the Douglas County Federation, the teacher union, wants the start delayed to Aug. 24.