After a sign was placed at a Douglas County elementary school reading “Defund DCSD, Fire Teachers,” the district superintendent called the incident disheartening and disappointing.

A photo of the sign circulated on social media and among community members in recent days. The image appears to show the words scrawled in black ink on paper and tacked onto one of the district’s signs placed at schools receiving funds from a mill levy override and bond measure passed in 2018.

A spokeswoman said the incident was quickly cleaned up and declined to disclose which elementary school was vandalized because the district does not want those teachers to feel targeted.

However, according to a Lone Tree police report, the principal at Eagle Ridge Elementary got texts from parents on July 30 as they observed three people hanging up the sign.

Lone Tree police Det. Joe Deland confirmed by email that a sign was taken down by community members in the department’s jurisdiction. He said cameras do not capture the area.

Police said the case is inactive.

Superintendent Thomas Tucker in a letter to the entire district said he was disheartened to learn about the incident, which followed the announcement DCSD will reopen schools on a so-called “hybrid” learning model — one that involves both in-person and remote learning — this fall.

Some members of the school community including the local teachers union have called hybrid learning the best compromise amid the COVID-19 pandemic and commended the district for its decision.

Others have pushed back, and parent protesters rallied on Aug. 31, calling for a full reopening of schools to in-person learning.

Tucker said in his letter emotions in the community are high and run the gamut.

“Our world is simply not the same as it was six months ago. It’s stressful, it’s frustrating and our families and staff are sad, angry, confused,” he said.

The decision to return on a hybrid learning model “was an incredibly difficult one,” Tucker wrote.

School board directors and district leaders deliberated for hours in a special meeting on July 25 as they weighed three options for reopening schools — full online learning, hybrid or full in-person learning.

Until that day the district’s plan was to return with 100% in-person learning, five days a week.

A panel of principals who spoke in the meeting expressed concern about implementing all the social distancing measures that would be required of schools if students returned to 100% in-person learning.

Tri-County Health Department Executive Director John Douglas also spoke about a rise in case positivity rates in Douglas County during the past two weeks, from roughly 3% to 6%.

By the meeting’s end, Tucker and department heads shifted course, recommending to school board directors that the district reopen on a hybrid model. Directors approved the plan and students are now slated to attend class in-person two days a week and online three days a week.

“But at no time was this decision made by our teachers, principals or other staff members,” Tucker wrote in his letter about the sign calling to fire teachers.

Teachers are struggling, Tucker said. They want to be in classrooms. But they also have children at home, elderly family members, or are personally at high risk for COVID-19.

Teachers do not decide if schools return to in-person learning or if masks are required in buildings, he said, and are focused on “how to provide each of our 68,000 students with the highest-quality public education despite the unprecedented circumstances.”

“I’m incredibly disappointed to see anger being directed their way,” Tucker wrote.

District educators reacted to the image on social media.

Legend High School teacher Cally Macosko-Jones shared an image of the sign on Twitter, remarking: “I’m speechless. Heartbroken. Furious. Worried. Exhausted.”

Macosko-Jones urged community members to check in with their children’s teachers, who are “juggling a million different plans/ideas/procedures” as they return to school. Educators are worried about themselves and loved ones, she said, while she is bracing for burnout in the upcoming year.

“But I’m also preparing to present my best self to my new students,” she said.

Douglas County High School teacher Kelsey Faletra wrote on Twitter “we’ve already been defunded time and time again so this doesn’t scare us.”

Tucker said there are still many unknowns about the coronavirus, noting data and information changes daily. One thing is certain, he said: School will look “very different this year.”

Parents are scrambling to arrange childcare for online learning days and transportation is “incredibly limited” amid the pandemic, he wrote. Both issues are making the return to school a challenge for working families, he said.

Tucker said he understands the angst created by the current climate, adding there are many more decisions to be made.

He urged the community to brainstorm solutions to hurdles created by the pandemic and to support one another.

“Navigating the return to school in the midst of COVID-19 is incredibly challenging — in fact, it’s the most difficult storm I’ve weathered in my 30 years in public education,” Tucker said in his letter. “Myself, the DCSD Board of Education and all of our staff are doing the best we can to provide students with a quality public education, while keeping them safe.”