This story was originally published by Chalkbeat Colorado. More at chalkbeat.org.
Following a new push from state officials, several school districts Tuesday announced plans to bring students back to in-person learning in January.
District leaders called the plans tentative, and urged their communities to help COVID transmission continue to decrease so that schools can remain open once students return.
The plans in Aurora, Adams 14, and Cherry Creek school districts build in some days of remote learning in early January to allow districts to watch for a new surge of cases following the holidays.
In Aurora, school board members began the meeting with a statement noting they believe in-person instruction is “extremely important.” Aurora board members have struggled with allowing the superintendent to make decisions and have reversed his reopening plans. This time, the board refrained from an official vote, and said they were “empowering and encouraging” district leadership to create a plan and make a decision.
Superintendent Rico Munn told the board the tentative plan is to have students begin the spring semester on Jan. 11 remotely to allow staff time to learn new procedures and to continue to track cases. Students of all grades would return to buildings with a hybrid model of alternating weeks in school and online on Jan. 19.
While board members still had questions about the district’s plan and concerns about staff workload, most were generally supportive of the plan.
In neighboring Cherry Creek, the school district’s plan is to bring students back on Jan. 11 after starting the semester remotely. But details of the plan will hinge on whether the two-week case rates drop below 500 per 100,000. That’s a figure district and state officials have identified as the tipping point where they struggled to keep enough staff operating school buildings.
In Adams 14, where all students have been learning online since August, elementary students would return to in-person instruction four days a week starting on Jan. 19. Older students would be phased in by Feb. 1 under a hybrid model where students would be in-person two days per week and online the remaining school days.
School board members had concerns and hesitated to approve the plan. Many voiced concerns about seeing other school districts that struggled between in-person and having to go back to remote learning during the fall semester.
The board’s lawyer reminded board members prior to the vote that because the district is under state-mandated external management from MGT Consulting, the board is required to give the company’s recommendations full consideration. Any time the board votes down a recommendation from the management company, it must justify the decision to state officials within 14 days and state officials could find them in violation of state orders ceding their management.
“It’s time for us to give this a try,” said acting superintendent Dan Rangel. “I just want to give it a try.”
The Adams 14 school board ultimately did approve the return plan unanimously, but asked the district to first create a metric that can allow families and staff to track the situation and know if the schools may be close to reaching a tipping point where building closures would be more likely.
All districts will still allow students to choose to remain in virtual learning if they prefer.