Backpack Bash helps 10,000 students in need (copy)

Volunteer Matilda Cardona helps on July 28 in Colorado Springs with sorting and stuffing 10,000 backpacks full of donated school supplies in preparation for the Backpack Bash event, which equips El Paso County students in need of supplies.

Tuesday is a bit of a "take two" for most Pikes Peak-area school districts, who are sending the majority of students back to in-person learning. 

Colorado Springs District 11, Falcon District 49, Manitou Springs District 14, Harrison District 2, Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8, Cheyenne Mountain District 12 and Widefield District 3 are returning their students to classrooms — elementary students to a full-time schedule and older students to hybrid schedule, generally. Some districts, like Harrison and Falcon, will phase in students' in-person return in coming weeks. All districts are offering an online option for those who are more comfortable with it.

Falcon students have been away from brick and mortar classrooms the longest. The district switched to e-learning in early November due to rising COVID-19 cases in the county and state. Most area districts followed suit later in the month, and resumed classes earlier this month virtually, at the recommendation of county health officials.

Lewis-Palmer District 38 returned all students to classrooms Jan. 11, with secondary students attending on a hybrid schedule. Academy District 20 returned its elementary students to classrooms last week, but will return its middle and high school students to a hybrid schedule Tuesday. 

"One of the great things about a new school semester, whether during a pandemic or not, is the opportunity for a fresh start," District 20 spokeswoman Allison Cortez said. "We often say, 'We reserve the right to be smarter tomorrow than we are today.' That statement has never been truer.

"None of us are experts in delivering education during a global pandemic, but each day we learn something new or overcome an unexpected challenge."

Julie Stephen, spokeswoman for Lewis-Palmer, said the district does not consider second semester a "take two," however.

"If you mean a do-over, no," she said. "Every day of contact with a student, whatever the platform, is game on."

Christine O'Brien, spokeswoman for Harrison, said her district is of the same mindset.

"Our teachers did maintain some wonderful instructional gains this fall, and we are constantly looking for additional engagement strategies and hoping to welcome back many of our students in-person," she said.

Devra Ashby, a District 11 spokeswoman, said she has "heard many educators, families and students say their hope is for a semester without too many interruptions of moving from in-person to online learning." Cortez said District 20 is better prepared for whatever the pandemic may bring, with a semester under its belt of transitions from online learning to in person, and back again.

"At the beginning of last semester, we didn't know what to expect," Cortez said. But now, the district is "much smarter; we've worked out any of the kinks."

New pandemic guidelines updated in December by the state health department are anticipated to bring relief to districts wishing to keep schools open, but struggling to staff them due to quarantines. The guidelines allow close contacts of a symptomatic individual to remain in in-person learning for several days while the symptomatic person awaits test results, unless that person already has a positive COVID-19 test, has had close contact with someone with the virus or has a new loss of taste or smell. Additionally, quarantines can end after 10 days, versus 14, per guidance from the state health department released last month. 

Many area districts are exploring the possibility of utilizing COVID-19 rapid tests, to be provided via a partnership with the state and BINAXNow. Woodland Park School District RE-2 and Fountain-Fort Carson already offer on-site testing, and have since last year.

And, there's an end in sight, Cortez said. Teachers are expected to be vaccinated as part of Phase 1B of the state's vaccine roll out perhaps as early as next month, but likely this spring.

"We have hope," she said.

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