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Annabella Maldonado sits in Mrs. Brooks’ 4th grade class at Monterey Elementary School in Harrison School District 2 on Monday, August 17, 2020. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

The Widefield, Harrison, Cheyenne Mountain, Manitou and Lewis Palmer school districts will postpone students' physical return to classrooms in January after a recommendation from county health authorities to do so.

A delay "might be prudent," allowing time for districts to see the impact of holiday travel on COVID-19 cases, a representative for El Paso County Public Health said last week.

"Adjusting return-to-learn dates for second semester is a conversation in which school leaders and public health are actively engaged," agency spokeswoman Michelle Hewitt said Wednesday. "Based on these discussions, there was consensus that it might be prudent to wait a couple weeks after the holidays before having students return to in-person instruction in schools."

Students in Widefield School District 3 will resume school Jan. 6 via distance learning, which they'll remain in through Jan. 15. Preschool through 5th grade students will return to in-person learning Jan. 19, on which date students in grades 6 through 12 will begin hybrid learning, district spokeswoman Samantha Briggs said Monday.

"This timeline will be flexible and dependent on changes to our county's color dial and recommendations from El Paso County Public Health," she said. "We want to have a plan that is sustainable so that all students can return and stay in school."

The color dial assigns categories to counties based on the growth of the virus and hospitalizations. On Monday the county remained in the red phase of the state's COVID-19 dial, with 1,144 diagnoses per 100,000 over a two-week period and a positivity rate -- the number of positive cases among those tested -- of 14%.

Harrison School District 2 will resume learning Jan. 7, with remote learning, and shift to in-person learning for kindergarten through 5th graders and all special education students on Jan. 19. On Feb. 1, grades 6, 9 and some additional students will resume in-person learning. Grades 8 and 12 will resume in-person learning on Feb. 22. Grades 7 and 10 will begin in-person learning on March 8. Grade 11 will resume in-person learning March 29, according to a document posted to the district's website.

The district will "no longer offer a hybrid learning model for middle and high school students" due to "staffing and scheduling issues," the document stated. The district's plan will be "flexible and dependent on changes to our county's color dial and recommendations from El Paso County Health," it added.

Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 will resume classes remotely Jan. 6, then transition to in-person learning on Jan. 19 or 20. Elementary school students will resume in-person learning on Jan. 19, with the exception of 3-year-old preschoolers, who will return on Jan. 20. Junior high and high school students will return to hybrid in-person learning Jan. 19 or 20, depending on cohort, Superintendent Walt Cooper said Monday.

Students in Manitou Springs School District 14 will return from the holidays on Jan. 8 to remote learning. Elementary students will transition to in person or hybrid learning on Jan. 19, with a decision being announced the week of Jan. 4. Secondary students will resume a hybrid schedule on that day, Superintendent Elizabeth Domangue said at the district's Monday Board of Education meeting.

Lewis-Palmer School District 38 students will also see a delayed return, pushed back from Jan. 5 to 11. Elementary school students will return to fully in-person learning; secondary students will resume a hybrid schedule, according to district spokeswoman Julie Stephen.

Academy School District 20, the area's largest, hopes to announce plans Tuesday, a spokeswoman said.

District 11 Superintendent Michael Thomas will discuss the January return-to-learn plan at the Board of Education meeting Wednesday, a spokeswoman said.

Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 hopes to have a decision to release early this week, a spokeswoman said Monday. 

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