Dear Team DPS,
Thank you for the work and dedication you put into supporting our schools and students throughout the spring and helping us adjust to frequently changing conditions while still providing strong service.
I want to take this opportunity to provide an update on our plans for returning to school in the fall.
Over the last several weeks, we have been planning for next school year by working with teachers, leaders and health experts. This week, the Metro Denver Health Partnership, a coalition of local health departments, released new guidance on reopening schools that emphasizes the critical whole-child support that schools provide to the community and provides emerging science-based data of the limited transmission risks from students in the school setting.
Based on this new, updated guidance from our health experts, I am pleased to announce to all staff that in addition to a 100% online option for students, we are now working toward opening all schools for full, in-person instruction in August instead of a hybrid model.
The new guidance from our local health agencies emphasizes the critical mental and social-emotional supports our schools provide, on top of essential academic instruction. The opening sentence of the MDHP report reads: "Continued school closures threaten the health and safety of Colorado children."
The report also details the latest understanding of COVID risks as it relates to schools. It states: "More than three months after Colorado’s first reported case of COVID-19, and with almost 9 million cases of COVID-19 diagnosed worldwide, several patterns relevant to school re-opening are beginning to emerge. First, children appear to have lower rates of infection than do older persons and, when infection does occur, are much less likely to have serious complications than adults. Second, while children (including those not showing symptoms) can transmit COVID-19, emerging evidence indicates that children are not primary drivers of transmission and that school reopening is likely to have minimal impact on transmission between students or between students and staff."
We know that the COVID-19 crisis isn't over. We’re now seeing spikes in many states and new highs of reported cases. In Colorado, however, the rate of infection is still relatively steady. The data is clear that the risk of child-to-adult transmission continues to be low and taking proper health precautions, like wearing masks, further reduces medical risks. We will also continue to work with our local health experts and if necessary, make adjustments to our plans.
The updated plans for next school year have been shared with school leaders, teachers and specialized service providers. And we will be sharing the update with families later today.
Central staff will receive an update next week on how this new guidance will impact our plans to return to our office locations. You can expect to receive a more detailed plan for a return to full, in-person instruction as well as the 100% online option in the coming weeks.
Our educator-led Return to School Workgroup did a terrific job of putting together a plan for a mix of in-person and remote instruction, and if we need to, we can quickly pivot to that plan in case health conditions and guidance change. We will always follow the health department requirements for how we will handle any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our schools.
And I will be emphasizing that, while we are now planning to open for all students, it’s also important to understand that school will look different. Some of these changes include:
· There will be required health screenings of all students and staff before or as they arrive at school.
· Masks will be required inside the school.
· We will adjust class schedules in order to keep groups of students together and limit student movement throughout the day.
· There will be no assemblies or large gatherings, and students will likely eat breakfast and lunch in their classrooms.
· Schools will have supplies of hand sanitizer and soap to allow for frequent hand-washing.
· School facilities will be disinfected regularly.
I know that some families will still not be comfortable sending their children back for in-person instruction and some staff members who have high risk health conditions may not be able to work in person. To address this concern, we will offer a full-time online school program for kindergarten through 12th-grade (an online option won’t be available for preschool students for the fall semester). We expect this online option to be centrally managed, but families who choose it will not lose an enrollment spot at their current school for when they return to in-person learning, and teachers won’t lose their mutual consent position if they work remotely. We’ll provide updates on this planning in the coming days. This information will be included in the communication to families, which will also include a survey to help us gauge interest in the online option and better understand how many families will need bus transportation. See more below about how those working over the summer can help get this critical feedback from our families.
If you have health concerns about returning to your work site, please refer to this communication for more information about how to submit a request for accommodations related to COVID-19. You may also reach out to Connect_HumanResources@dpsk12.org with any other questions.
We have a lot of work ahead and a lot of details to work out, and we will continue to collaborate closely with members of Team DPS. We will be setting up virtual “town halls” in the coming weeks to provide further details and to listen to your feedback and answer your questions.
Thank you for your continued flexibility and support.