Pikes Peak region schools were planning to resume classroom instruction next semester before President Donald Trump issued his edict that he wants schools across the nation to reopen in the fall, threatening to withhold federal funding if they don't.
“Regardless of the president’s decree, we had plans to return in-person, five days a week, and with an online option,” Devra Ashby, spokeswoman for Colorado Springs School District 11, said Wednesday. “We’re not playing politics; we have to be bipartisan in public education, and we’re doing what’s best for the health and safety of our students and staff.”
Most of the region’s superintendents signed a letter sent June 11 to El Paso County public health and government officials, saying they were committed to reopening under new coronavirus-related guidelines they created based on current pandemic restrictions, guidance from several agencies and what have been deemed best practices.
Those include maintaining social distancing of 6 feet, frequent hand sanitization and building cleaning, children eating lunch at desks, limiting classes to 25 students, having teachers instead of students rotate rooms, possible facial coverings and temperature checks, reducing surface touching, refraining from hugs and other safety measures.
Local schools will offer both in-classroom and online options, as well as prepare for potential closures due to COVID-19 outbreaks, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Between 70% and 75% of D-11 families have indicated they want their children to return to school in person in August, Ashby said. Another 20% say they prefer online classes, and the remainder are undecided. A parent, student and teacher survey is being conducted through this week.
Wearing facial coverings has not yet been decided, she said. Some parents say they won’t send their children to school if they are required, and some say they won’t send their children if they’re not required, she said.
D-11 officials are discussing options to provide social distancing, Ashby said, including doing a block schedule for middle and high school students with four classes a day, or perhaps a hybrid model of online and in-person instruction.
Holding classes outdoors and using gymnasiums and cafeterias as learning spaces also are under consideration.
“We’re thinking outside the box and getting creative,” Ashby said.
But schools must adhere to state and local coronavirus pandemic restrictions, which could be different in August, when classes are scheduled to resume.
“We have a document called ‘A Stake in the Sand,’ because we know things are going to change,” Ashby said. “We’re constantly monitoring the guidance.”
D-11’s first day will be Aug. 17.
School District 49’s plans also are fluid and will become more concrete as Aug. 10, opening day, approaches, spokesman David Nancarrow said Wednesday.
The week of Aug. 3 will be used for teacher preparation and staff planning. Sixth- and ninth-graders and most kindergartners will start Aug. 7.
A D-49 survey of students, families and staff showed 75% prefer the in-person instructional model, Nancarrow said. About 10% favored online learning.
The district will hold a registration process in mid-July, he said, to determine learning preference and set plans.
All adults at schools will be required to wear face coverings, and the practice will be recommended for all students, Nancarrow said. It also will be required for all bus riders, which will allow for one student per seat capacity and siblings to sit together.
“As we've come to expect, the landscape can shift rapidly,” Nancarrow said. “We'll adjust as necessary and take time to ensure our successful restart in August.”
Academy School District 20’s first day is Aug. 17, and will be “as close to normal as possible,” said Allison Cortez, spokeswoman.
Alternatives for students and staff unable to attend in-person are being created, she said.
Surveys on remote learning and fall expectations showed most of the 12,000 teachers, parents and students who responded preferred in-person learning, Cortez said.
Students in Harrison School District 2 will be back at school Aug. 10, using a cohort model, said Christine O’Brien, spokeswoman. Orientation days will be Aug. 6 and 7, to review new protocols with families and students.
All K-12 students will be provided a laptop in the event that a student requires online instruction based on a health concern or a high-risk family member, O'Brien said.
Lewis-Palmer School District 38 in Monument will offer in-person and online programming beginning Aug. 19. The district also will provide a one-day-a-week, free Home School Enrichment Academy for K-8 students living in and out of district, said spokeswoman Julie Stephen.