Dear DPS Community:
Last week we shared our plans for re-opening in-person learning if health conditions allowed. This week we have important updates about when health conditions allow for in-person learning. This comes out of several weeks of working with leaders from state government, area school districts, and our health officials. Based on this guidance, we are still on track for the dates and plans that we announced last week.
How Health Conditions Determine What In-Person Schooling DPS Can Offer
Through close collaboration with surrounding school districts and the Metro Denver Partnership for Health (MDPH) and careful analysis of health reports and records, we are now able to align the state’s COVID-dial color ratings with the recommended approach for instruction in schools. The connection between the color rating on the dial and how in-person instruction is delivered is rooted in the level of disruption that schools see due to quarantines. It is not an issue of schools being safe. The data has shown that, in schools that stringently implement the recommended, overlapping safety strategies, school transmission of COVID appears to be low.
When community rates get higher and quarantines more common, it becomes harder to operate schools because all metro districts are experiencing staffing shortages. Area school districts reviewed their collective experience with health officials, and have determined some common guidelines for operating schools during the pandemic. We can be in-person full time for elementary and part-time (hybrid) for secondary when we are in ‘red’ on the COVID dial. However, we know that when cases are above 500, it can be hard to maintain staffing levels, so we may see more operational closures at some schools. As always, we’ll stay in close contact with our health partners so that we are prepared if additional closures are needed at the district level.
Full details on how the community-incidence rate affects in-person learning can be found here.
Updated Guidance from Governor’s Task Force on Health Procedures Required for In-Person Learning
Over the past several weeks, a task force convened by Gov. Jared Polis has been updating health guidance for in-person learning, based on the expertise of medical professionals and the experience of Colorado school districts.
While in-school transmission rates are very low during in-person learning, frequent disruptions have been caused when a student or staff member is exposed to or tests positive for COVID, usually due to community spread. The resulting procedures for quarantines, which previously required affected students and staff to stay at home for 14 days, have created frequent shifts to remote learning, and at times led to severe staffing shortages that prevented the school from continuing to offer any in-person learning. This is what has caused many school districts, including DPS, to shift to fully remote learning between Thanksgiving and winter break.
The new guidance, which is based on the latest medical data and analysis, will allow schools to stay open for safe in-person learning with fewer disruptions. The full report from the Governor’s Task Force is available here.
How Does the COVID Vaccine Affect Future Plans?
The coalition of metro-area school districts is strongly advocating for educators to be prioritized in the vaccination schedule. We believe that there is no more critical function that a community provides than educating its children. We know that prioritizing vaccines to ensure full in-person schooling is critical to supporting our kids, our families, and the overall strength of the community. Once educators have the opportunity to receive a vaccination, schools will have a greater chance of remaining open regardless of the spread of the virus. We will keep our staff and families updated on the developing plans for vaccine distribution.
We’re thankful for the partnership with other area education leaders, the Metro Denver Partnership for Health, and the Governor’s Task Force. Our teamwork has given us a clearer, brighter picture for offering in-person learning after winter break. And, as always, we’re so grateful to our DPS community for its continuing understanding and support.