All middle and high schools in Cherry Creek School District will reopen for full-time, in-person classes on April 5, a change that will continue through the end of the school year, the district announced March 10.
“Since July, I have said our ultimate goal as a school district is to bring students back for full, in-person learning as soon as it is safe enough to do so,” Superintendent Scott Siegfried wrote in a letter to the community. “The data and science tell me that we have reached that point.”
Virus levels in the area continue to decline, and hospitalizations of Arapahoe County residents are at the lowest point since the start of the pandemic, according to Siegfried’s letter and Tri-County Health Department data.
The Douglas County, Jefferson County, Littleton, Adams 12 Five Star and Weld Re-8 school districts have recently made similar decisions. Westminster Public Schools has provided full-time, in-person learning at all levels since the semester began.
The change in Cherry Creek applies to students who chose in-person classes this year and have been attending school on the hybrid, or “blended,” model. This school year, Cherry Creek district has operated under a plan for grades six through 12 that place half of students in school Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with the other half attending Thursday and Friday.
Students enrolled in Cherry Creek Elevation — the district’s online school — and the K-5 online program will continue to follow regular schedules through the end of the school year.
As of mid-January, the district had about 10,100 students enrolled in online class. Cherry Creek has roughly 55,000 students total.
Preschool and K-5 students who did not choose online schooling have been in full-time in-person classes since the start of the school year except for when all district students went remote in late fall.
For in-person students who do not feel ready to come back to full in-person classes, the district will offer a remote option to finish the year without coming back full time, according to the letter. More details about that option soon will be available soon, the letter stated.
Access to COVID-19 vaccinations for district staff paved the way for the decision. By April 5, teachers and staff who choose to obtain the shots will be at least 14 days past their second inoculation date, at which time the vaccine reaches full effect, the letter says.
It’s unclear how many staff will be vaccinated by that time, however. The district does not track who gets vaccinated.
“I can tell you at this point that all staff have had the opportunity to receive a vaccine if they choose,” Abbe Smith, district spokeswoman, said on March 10. “Some have just had their first dose; some have had both by now.”
Data on staff cases
The district pointed to its internal data about positive COVID cases among staff to argue that “teachers are less likely to contract COVID when we are in school,” the letter read.
A report to the Cherry Creek school board on March 8 shows that when the district offered in-person classes earlier this school year — starting in August and ending in early November — the district saw 127 COVID-19 cases among staff. From Jan. 11 to recently in March with in-person class, the district saw 119 cases. And from Nov. 10 to Jan. 11, roughly when the district was on fully remote or at-home classes, the district saw 446 cases.
But the Nov. 10 to Jan. 11 period includes Arapahoe County’s highest daily case numbers — through early December — in the entire pandemic. It also includes the county’s post-Christmas spike.
The district’s report also cites that among the 4,066 individuals who were told to quarantine since the start of the third quarter, only 17, or 0.42%, became knowingly COVID-positive during quarantine. The district pointed to that statistic to illustrate “the extremely low rate of potential in-school transmission,” Siegfried’s letter read. The district’s third quarter began in early January and ended on March 12.
But the “knowingly” caveat is a nod to the limitation in the data: Not all students and staff decide to undergo testing for COVID-19 while in quarantine. Some may have asymptomatic cases, and some may have symptoms but choose not to get tested.
“As in every other sector of the country, we are not able to account for the possibility of asymptomatic positives,” a report for a previous Cherry Creek school board meeting said.