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A plan to get some kids back in the classroom by late January was unveiled in a special session of the Jeffco School Board, Wednesday, Dec 16, 2020. 

Interim Superintendent Kristopher Schuh started the presentation with two words. “Gratitude,” referring to the gratitude he felt for the hundreds of student families and stakeholders he met with during the creation of the Restart Plan. He thanked them for their candor, criticism, comments, questions, time and feedback. The second word was” collaboration,” referencing the collaborative nature of the process that was assisted by other superintendents across the Front Range and public health officials.

Dr. Susan Leach, Chief Student Success Officer at Jeffco Public Schools, discussed several benefits of in-person learning including its capacity to better meet the academic, social and emotional needs of students.

“The statistics related to youth health and mental health since the onset of the pandemic are just staggering,” she said. “As you can imagine, we’re seeing increased mental health issues in both children and adults, and these children and adults with pre-existing mental health conditions tend to have their symptoms exacerbated when we see exposure to the additional stressors or those feelings of not having control over your circumstances, really tend to exacerbate what they’re going through.”

She said there has been evidence of increased isolated substance use among adolescents and that gaps (in performance) that exist within historically underrepresented populations have widened since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Other data Leach cited showed decreases in utilization of services like immunizations, health screenings, dental visits, and mental health services between the pre-pandemic levels in January, and those in May. At the same time, mental health-related ER visits for adolescents have increased. She said parents have reported more frequent occurrences of sleep disorders and maladaptive behaviors since the pandemic began. 

Leach wrapped up by addressing issues surrounding increased parental stress that is negatively impacting children and setting the record straight on false reports of increased suicide levels, saying there’s been no evidence of that.

Next, Julie Wilken, Jeffco Schools’ Director of Health Services, summarized the current status of the Jeffco Covid Dial and what it meant in regard to reopening schools. She showed the correlation between increased Covid positivity rates in the community, and in the schools, that led to the recent return to remote learning. Wilken also presented detailed graphs and charts highlighting the rapid increase in numbers of Covid-positive students during the month of November that made it impossible to continue in-person learning for the remainder of the calendar year.

Tom McDermott, the District’s Chief Strategy Officer, continued the presentation, noting that the implementation of the plan was contingent on the county remaining at level red, or below.

Reopening timeline

Jan. 6, 2021, continue in-person learning for students with significant disabilities, some Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, and Preschool.

Grades K-5:

Jan. 6 – Jan. 15 Remote learning continues. Return to in-person after a 14-day incubation period following the New Year.

Jan. 19 In-person learning begins.

Grades 6-12:

Jan. 6 – Jan 29 Remote learning continues.

Feb 1 Hybrid learning considered

Conditions for Hybrid for Grades 6-12

A return to a Hybrid learning model for grades 6-12 is supported by public health officials when the county reaches Level Orange on the Covid Status Dial or with improving metrics in Level Red. The district would also have to see K-5 Schools being operationally stable, without widespread school closures due to quarantines, and that the county overall case counts continue to decline.

Jefferson County demonstrates a plateau in case incident rates, followed by a decline.

The next steps include schools organizing in implementing the plan with central staff colleagues, communicating the plan to the public and continuing to advocate for supports from the state to maintain in-person options for students.

Other topics covered in the special session included an update on Jeffco’s Superintendent search and the timeline, methods and marketing plan they intend to use. The search will begin mid-January with surveys, community engagement activities and advertisements. The schedule shows the Board conducting initial interviews for the position in early March, 2021 and making a final decision on a candidate, with a public announcement of their choice by early May, 2021.

The first agenda item of the special session was a discussion of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CARF) for Fiscal Year 2020. A basic summary showed the District’s liabilities were greater than their assets by about $1.4 million, largely because of pension obligations.