Jeffco Public Schools soon will welcome back middle and high school students for in-person learning four days per week, joining a broader trend of metro districts preparing to reopen secondary institutions before the conclusion of the spring semester.
According to an announcement Friday, the district will phase in students starting March 15. That’s when kids who require specific academic needs, such as individualized education plans and other special services, will be able to come back into buildings. The remaining students in grades six through 12 will return in-person beginning April 5.
Currently, middle and high schoolers in Colorado’s second-largest school district attend on a hybrid schedule, in which students go to in-person classes two days per week. On Fridays, all students complete work remotely — and they will continue to do so under the new plan.
Preschool through fifth grade students already attend in-person classes five days per week.
Interim Superintendent Kristopher Schuh said in a note to families that local COVID-19 trends and expedited teacher vaccinations made it possible to expand in-person learning. Students will no longer be able to attend on a hybrid schedule after April 5, though they may choose the district’s 100% remote learning option if they do not want to be full-time in-person, he added.
Some students, parents and teachers had pushed back against the proposal to increase the number of days kids received face-to-face instruction, arguing that it would up class sizes and the risk of COVID-19. That could cause more quarantines and disruptions to learning during a year already marred by inconsistency, one student said.
Schuh noted schools will continue with safety protocols, such as mask wearing, health screenings and “social distancing, when possible.” By April 5, he expects social distancing requirements to be relaxed, further enabling in-person learning.
“Not everyone will agree with the decisions made… From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to institute both remote and hybrid learning models, our goal was and continues to be the return of 100% in-person learning for all grade levels,” Schuh said in his note. “I know this has been a challenging and unsettling time for everyone. No one has escaped the uncertainty, worry, health concerns, and additional workload this pandemic has put upon us. I do believe we are turning a big corner and seeing hope become reality.”
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On Friday, Jefferson County moved to Level Blue on the state’s COVID-19 dial after incidence and test positivity rates experienced sustained improvement. The county reported 91.1 new cases per 100,000 residents and about 3% positivity between Feb. 17 and 23, according to Jefferson County Public Health.
Level Blue or “Caution,” the second-lowest designation on the dial, calls for in-person learning for all grades. Health experts believe having older kids in school is “very low risk,” despite their increased susceptibility to COVID-19 transmission compared to younger children.
Jeffco Public Schools follows Douglas County School District, Poudre School District, Boulder Valley School District, St. Vrain Valley School District and others in reopening middle and high schools before the conclusion of the 2020-2021 school year.
Notably absent from the list is Colorado’s largest district, Denver Public Schools, in which in-person learning opportunities vary by individual school. It’s unclear whether the district will widely require or encourage full-time, in-person learning.