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Volunteer Iva Divinnie helps with sorting and stuffing 10,000 backpacks full of donated school supplies in preparation for the Backpack Bash event, to equip El Paso County students who are in need of supplies, in Colorado Springs on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. COSILoveYou and Pikes Peak United Way led the collaborated effort with other local organizations to provide students in elementary, middle, and high schools with the supplies they need to start the upcoming school year. Backpacks will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis. Each family can visit one Backpack Bash location, and each child must be present to receive a backpack. Backpacks will be distributed at five drive-though locations. Attendees are asked to wear masks to ensure COVID-19 safety. August 1, 2020, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mission Trace Shopping Center, 3031 S. Academy Blvd. Mountain Springs Church, 7345 Adventure Way. Coronado High School, 1590 W. Fillmore St. August. 8, 2020, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Doherty High School, 4515 Barnes Road. Tri-Lakes YMCA, 17250 Jackson Creek Pkwy in Monument. (Chancey Bush/ The Gazette)

Secondary students at the region's largest school district will start the year remotely, while Widefield School District 3, Fountain-Fort Carson District 8 and Harrison District 2 will press forward with pre-existing return-to-learn plans, officials announced in Tuesday evening letters to parents.

Academy District 20 students in grades 6-12 will start the year in a "remote, synchronous classroom environment," as if they were in person, with teachers logging in from their school classrooms, according to the letter from Superintendent Tom Gregory.

School will begin on Aug. 24. The tentative goal is to transition back to a hybrid model with a 100% online synchronous option on Sept. 14, the letter stated, adding that students who require additional services "will be served in person."

"I am very aware of the frustration and anxiety created by continued changes and uncertainty," Gregory wrote. "I, too, desire certainty and a predictable path moving forward."

The letters cited a plateau in local infection rates and stabilized hospitalization rates as positive signs for in-person learning. Many of the letters also cited the county's opening of a new testing site on the southeast side of town that can test individuals ages 2 and older for COVID-19.

"Given our current testing and hospital capacities, as well as our improving infection numbers, El Paso County Public Health supports in-person learning as provided in the guidance," Dr. Leon Kelly, deputy director of the county health department, said in Harrison's release.

Harrison plans to re-open schools on Monday, with in-person learning for kindergarten through grade 5 and remote learning for grades 6-12. Older students will transition to in-person learning on Sept. 8, as recommended by the health department, the district's release stated.

Fountain-Fort Carson students in kindergarten through grade 5 will return to in-person learning next week in staggered fashion. Secondary students will begin remote instruction on Aug. 24, with a goal of bringing them back for in-person learning in a hybrid model on Sept. 15, according to the district's release.

Widefield students in kindergarten through grader 5 will return to in-person learning in a staggered fashion the week of Aug. 24-28. Students in grades 6-12 will return online, with a goal of transitioning to in-person learning in a hybrid model on Sept. 15, the district's release stated.

Falcon students will begin the school year remotely, with the goal of a staggered return to in-person learning after Labor Day, District 49 officials announced Monday, mirroring a decision made last week by District 11, the region's second-largest district.

D-11 announced it would start the academic year with a focus on remote learning, providing exclusively online education for all students except those deemed academically at-risk.

The announcement pivoted from that district's previously detailed plan, which gave students the option of learning online or attending in-person classes. Under the previous plan, high school students would have attended classes in person two days a week under a hybrid model, or completely online.

As of Monday, the county had a virus incidence of 138 cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks -- above the state health department's "high" benchmark of 100 cases per 100,000. It has remained in the high category since July 11.

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