El Paso County K-12 students returning to school in late summer will be back in familiar surroundings after the coronavirus pandemic abruptly ended the spring semester.

But that could be all that's unchanged.

They may stay in the same classroom or with the same group of students all day with scheduled breaks for hand-washing. There'll be no assemblies or lunch in the cafeteria. Students will have their temperature checked and wear face masks or shields. Hugging is out.

These and other suggested conditions for reopening schools are outlined in a letter the Pikes Peak Area Superintendents Association sent to county health and government officials Thursday.

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“There is no doubt that students across El Paso County suffered academic losses and emotional trauma during the time they were not allowed at school,” the letter states.

“If we are to both meet our constitutional and moral obligations to provide every student with access to an appropriate, equitable and high quality public education, not to mention allowing parents to return to the workforce and their livelihoods, we must open our doors in August and welcome our students back to the classroom as safely as possible.”

Eighteen superintendents of public schools in the region signed the letter, acknowledging they collectively agree on and are committed to follow the protocols they've created, which “demonstrate a thoughtful, practical and flexible approach” to reopening schools.

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“It’s important for superintendents to take this lead because not only do we know we need to get kids back to school, but also because there is immense planning and preparation that has to go in to getting kids back in school — so we can’t wait for state guidelines or guidance which has to date come late in the game and has been unpredictable,” said Walt Cooper, superintendent of Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 and head of the association.

Superintendents are taking what Gov. Jared Polis has said “at his word,” Cooper said, which is that the governor expects students to be back in school in August. 

Schools in the Pikes Peak region closed March 13 and didn't reopen for the remainder of the spring semester due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We are simply outlining the steps we are committed to taking in order to make that happen,” Cooper said. “If we don’t take the lead on ensuring this happens, we run the risk of leaving kids behind.”

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The health and safety measures that local schools will implement are divided into categories that include Healthy Practices, Classrooms and Educational Spaces, Cohort Management and Personal Responsibility.

In addition to having adults and students staying 6 feet apart, not shaking hands or hugging, and performing extra cleaning and disinfecting, schools should store children’s belongings in individual containers and open doors and windows to increase air circulation.

Children won’t be able to share supplies and likely will eat in their classroom or wherever the group they spend the day with meets. Among the guidelines, schools also should consider alternative classroom settings to serve children with special health care needs.

The guidelines will provide continuity and consistency, which Cooper said is beneficial because countywide, many districts share parents, teachers, substitute teachers, students and staff.

“The entire region is committed to providing the best we can for all students and any way we can share resources and practices helps all kids,” he said.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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