After Gov. Jared Polis stressed the need for Colorado's youngest learners to return to in-person learning, including those in areas transitioning to new and tighter COVID-19 restrictions, the Douglas County School District remained on track to move all its students in the opposite direction this semester.
As of Nov. 17, the district had thousands of students and staff in quarantine and expected those numbers to continue rising in the coming days, a spokeswoman said.
Gov. Jared Polis unveiled a new dial system on Nov. 17 aimed at giving communities more steps to improve the status of COVID-19 locally before entering a full shutdown. The color-coded dial system has multiple levels, each assigned a color.
Most area counties, including Douglas County, have been moved from the orange level to the red level, the second highest, effective Nov. 20. That comes with new restrictions, including a ban on indoor dining at restaurants. If a county should enter the purple phase, the highest level, it would essentially be given a stay-at-home order.
The governor said one of the top three goals of the new dial was to get children back to in-person learning, adding time was of the essence for elementary-age students, including those in red-level counties.
“We encourage preschool through fifth-grade students to continue learning in-person or restart if the districts have taken a hiatus,” Polis said.
Middle school students attending school in red zones could attend in-person, hybrid or remote, while high schools in areas of high risk should conduct hybrid or remote learning, Polis said.
Higher education institutions in red counties should conduct remote education, Polis said.
The Douglas County School District on Nov. 12 announced all students will transition back to remote learning after Thanksgiving Break amid a spike in COVID-19 cases that placed unprecedented strains on its system.
That remained the plan following Polis' update, including for pre-K and elementary students.
Paula Hans, a spokeswoman for the district, provided a statement in response to an interview request with interim Superintendent Corey Wise.
“Making the decision to transition to remote learning was difficult. We know it is better for our students to be in school, with peers and our amazing educators,” the statement said. “However, the high number of cases and quarantines in Douglas County is creating an environment where many of our students and teachers no longer have a predictable school routine.”
The district had more than 6,300 students and staff quarantined as of Nov. 17, and “it appears those numbers will continue to rise in the coming days,” Hans said.
The scope of quarantines has created a “tremendous staffing shortage” and consequently a significant barrier to conducting in-person learning, Hans said.
The district has been forced to transition several schools to remote learning temporarily during the first semester as quarantines kept more teachers out of the classroom than there were available substitutes.
Polis said the state education and health departments were working to provide school districts with additional federal funding in the coming days and weeks to help students return to in-person learning “sooner rather than later.”
Those resources could include personal protective gear, funding for outdoor classrooms and other supplies.
Polis said it is especially important preschool and elementary age students return to in-person learning so that “our children's future is not yet another casualty of this pandemic.”
“We want to make sure we emphasize the need for K-5 especially to return to in-person instruction,” Polis said. “We feel that based on the data, for many families and for many kids, that is the safest place they can be with the safety parameters that we have at school.”
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