Amid improving COVID-19 rates, the Douglas County School District announced it might return middle and high school students to hybrid learning earlier than planned next semester.
The change in pace comes as the county's incidence rate per 100,000 people dropped from roughly 830 when the board of education approved a tentative second semester plan on Dec. 10, to under 400 as of Dec. 30.
Interim Superintendent Corey Wise made the announcement in a Dec. 30 letter to the community.
“If we have learned one thing from COVID-19, it is that we need to be flexible with our plans and know that anything can change, based on current circumstances,” Wise said.
Wise said in early December the two-week cumulative incidence rate would be a key data point to watch as the district weighed when to bring secondary students back from remote learning to hybrid.
As of Dec. 10, the district planned to start preschool and elementary students with full, in-person learning on Jan. 5. That plan has not changed.
Wise had proposed monitoring the success of elementary schools' in-person learning, and if that proved both feasible and safe, returning middle schools to hybrid learning by late January, then high schools to hybrid learning by late February.
Now, the district might return both middle and high school students to hybrid learning at the same time, and by late January, Wise said.
He cautioned that hinges on whether current COVID-19 statistics hold up. The board of education will discuss an earlier return at its Jan. 5 board meeting.
Wise has previously stressed it's not just COVID-19's status in the community that affects whether students can attend school in-person. Operational pressures also plagued the first semester as quarantine guidelines kept more teachers out of the classroom than there were available substitutes.
Quarantine protocols clashed with an existing substitute teacher shortage across the state as COVID-19 upended the education system.
Wise said in his letter some help could be on the way.
Gov. Jared Polis announced Dec. 30 that Colorado is moving to Phase 1B of its vaccine priority plan, which now includes teachers. Wise said this may also alleviate some of the operational challenges to in-person learning.
“Giving our teachers priority access to COVID-19 vaccinations protects not only our educators — but our students, their families and our future,” Wise said.
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