Bringing Jeffco Public Schools students and faculty back for any form of in-person learning is going to be complicated at best.
According to information presented to the Jeffco Board of Education in a special meeting on Aug. 11, developing the restart plan has been a long and challenging process. The plan is constantly being evaluated based on data and guidance from Jeffco Public Health, and it has required adaptability at every turn.
Currently, the district plans to begin with two weeks of remote learning before transitioning to an in-person model for its primary schools and a hybrid model for its secondary schools. However, despite studying local data and looking at how other states and countries have handled the issue, it’s still not clear what is best.
“It’s not clear now what the best path forward is. There is mixed data in the community now about the level of transmission,” Superintendent Jason Glass said. “The science that we get is still emerging — from looking at how schools have successfully reopened, where they haven’t successfully reopened.”
Further, the data surrounding children is murky. For quite some time, it was thought to be rare for children to contract COVID-19, but that’s now less certain.
“Although it is perhaps a wide belief that we do not have children who are either carrying the virus or coming down with the ability to spread the virus, that actually is being questioned more and more by some of the data that we are seeing,” Jeffco Public Health Director Mark Johnson said.
In working with Jeffco Public Health, the school district has developed a number of tools that it believes will help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Those include masks and other forms of personal protective equipment, hand washing, social distancing, testing, cleaning, screening, ventilation and more.
Additionally, the school district is in the midst of developing procedures for quarantining a student cohort if someone tests positive as well as closing a school if there appears to be an outbreak. At a minimum, Jeffco Public Schools said if a student or staff members tests positive, the students in their cohort, as well as anyone else they’ve been in contact with, will be quarantined for at least 14 days and will transition to remote learning for that time.
Developing the procedures for quarantines and school closures is complex and fluid.
“We have developed a quarantine process. However, we do expect those to change,” said Julie Wilken, director of health services for Jeffco Public Schools. “The quarantine process is not simple. It is a long case investigative type of situation in which myself and my team will be intermingling and collaborating with Jefferson County Public Health on individual cases.”
“It’s a complicated situation,” Wilken added. “We will always err on the side of caution.”
The reactions to returning to school vary just as much as the plans. While some parents are eager for a full return, educators, support staff and their families — many of whom spoke during public comment at the Aug. 11 meeting — are concerned about what might happen when in-person learning begins.
Vasili Kolovos said it’s important to remember that children can contract COVID-19 and that they do not live in a vacuum. Kolovos is a Conifer resident with a child at West Jefferson Middle School and a wife who is a Jeffco Public Schools teacher.
“School health is community health. … The full in-person option will lead to the spread of this disease, and it will lead to illness and death,” he said.
Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at email@example.com or 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter @djswearingen.