Dear Team DPS,
A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we know more about the virus than ever before, thanks to local, national and international research and analysis. The best tools we have for preventing the spread of COVID-19 continue to be wearing masks and keeping physical distance from one another. And I’m very appreciative of all of the support and cooperation we’ve received from Team DPS and the Denver community in helping us navigate and stay safe during the past year.
By spring break, all DPS employees will have had the chance to receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine -- another powerful tool to reduce serious illness and fight the spread. As a result, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has updated its guidelines for fully vaccinated adults, and they no longer need to quarantine in the event of close contact with someone with a positive COVID test.
Ending the school year with more in-person learning for middle and high school students
We are pleased to announce that after spring break, we will be adjusting our guidelines for how many students and teachers can interact in a group (cohort).Making this shift lets us bring more middle and high school students back for in-person learning.
What health guidance has changed to make this shift possible?
New guidance from Denver Health (along with existing guidance from CDPHE) has made it possible for more students to spend time together in class and across cohorts (the groups of students who are in classrooms together), as well as for adults to support more students. As a reminder, we have used cohorts mostly to minimize the need to quarantine large groups of students and staff in the event of a positive test in the school, because we know how disruptive this can be for students and teachers.
Why do health experts believe it is safe to do this now?
Our health partners are clear: Increasing the number of students in a class cohort does not increase the risk of spreading COVID-19 as long as physical distancing and masking precautions are followed. Over the course of the past year, doctors and scientists have learned more about how effective health precautions are at preventing the spread of the virus. And our prior cohort sizes were smaller in order to minimize learning disruptions created by the need to quarantine students.
Under the updated guidance and advice of our health partners, our middle and high schools are using consistent seating charts and targeted contact identification. That means that only those students who spend 15 minutes or more within 6 feet of an affected individual would need to quarantine. And fully vaccinated adults don’t need to quarantine at all two weeks after receiving their second dose as long as they do not have COVID symptoms. This means that the risk of disruption for our students is much lower than it was earlier in the pandemic. And that, along with the clearer data showing just how effective masks and distancing are in preventing transmission, allows for larger cohorts and increases the ability of our middle and high schools to safely offer in-person learning for more students.
Will all middle and high schools be able to bring more students back?
We are working closely with school leaders and educators to get clear about what these new guidelines will look like at individual schools. Your school will be able to share more information with you in the coming weeks. Some schools may be able to bring in all of their students for in-person learning right away, while other schools may still face limitations, due to staffing challenges or classroom sizes that don’t allow for the required 3 feet of distance between students, as health experts advise. Please note, your school will continue to provide remote instruction through the end of the school year for students in the virtual program.
Keeping you informed
As always, we continue to monitor COVID-19 conditions with our partners at Denver Health and will adjust plans based on their guidance. We will continue to keep you informed of what to expect as we get closer to spring break.
We are hopeful that we can go into the final months of this challenging school year with all of our middle and high schools operating at as close to full strength as possible. And while we don’t yet know what next year will look like, we’re hopeful that conditions in Denver will continue to improve and make "normal" school even more possible!