Cherry Creek School District's fall in-person start not certain

Masks to be required; symptom checks, ventilation changes planned

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The Cherry Creek School District in late June announced plans to offer in-person classes five days a week for all students, with online learning for families who want to opt out for any reason. But starting off the year in-person isn't a certainty.

The district plans to start Aug. 17 both for in-person and online classes, spokeswoman Abbe Smith said July 22. But the impact of the virus in Arapahoe County will determine whether students that signed up for in-person class will start the school year physically in schools or in remote at-home class, according to the district's website.

“We will continue to monitor conditions and guidance from the State of Colorado and the Tri-County Health Department and will make adjustments to the plan if necessary” and communicate that to families, Smith said.

Denver Public Schools on July 17 announced plans to start the school year in fully remote learning and that the first day of remote school for most students will be Aug. 24. The soonest the Denver district would consider a phased-in return to in-person learning would be Sept. 8. 

Checking for symptoms

When Cherry Creek district students do return to school, the district plans to provide students and staff access to an app that will walk them through the symptom-checking process for COVID-19. Previously, a June 30 letter to the community from Superintendent Scott Siegfried said there “will be health screenings of all students and staff before or as they arrive at school.”

The district will not perform symptom checks at school, Smith clarified.

Families will be asked to take their children's temperature and check for symptoms before sending them to school. District staff members must take their own temperature and assess themselves for possible symptoms, the district's website says.

If a student develops a fever throughout the day, they will be excluded from school in alignment with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment guidance, and parents will be asked to pick them up, according to the district's website.

Mask requirement to be enforced

In light of the Tri-County Health Department's order requiring mask-wearing, the district will enforce a mask-wearing rule, according to its website.

For students who do not comply, the district will first work to educate them on the requirement to wear a mask in the district's schools. Tri-County's order makes an exception for “education settings,” which will have specific guidance on wearing face coverings, the order says.

Second, the district will provide official documentation of the requirement and provide a final warning, and the district will transfer the student from in-person to 100% online school if they continue to make the choice not to wear a mask.

“We will work with individual students to address any difficulties or medical issues with adhering to (those) expectations,” the district's website says.

Masks will be required while indoors. In times such as lunch, recess and during strong physical activity, masks can be removed.

Masks will be required and managed in a “developmentally appropriate manner” for elementary students; the district will have different expectations for kindergartners compared to fifth graders.

Different focus for high school

The district will focus on grouping — or "cohorting — students to minimize spread of the coronavirus. On an earlier informational page, the district's website outlined that high school students would be cohorted by class and that students would attend lunch aligned with their current class cohort.

A different page suggests the district is not able to group high school students in that manner, explaining that students will be able to leave campus for lunch or access the cafeteria under social distancing protocols, but that section does not mention cohorting.

"When we are not able to group (high school), we adjusted the schedule to significantly decrease student mixing and overlap. For example, with the previously discussed hybrid model, high school students changed classes or mixed 32 times over four days. With our updated model, students mix or change classes eight times in that same four-day period, and due to "off" periods, approximately 1/8 of the student population is always coming to or leaving campus," the website says.

The page still mentions that elementary and middle school students will be placed in cohorts by grade level for lunch, recess and special services. They will be given opportunities to socialize, the page adds.

Ventilation upgrade

The district also will increase air ventilation to attempt to protect students and staff from COVID-19.

Per the recommendation of the American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers, the district will increase its filter density to MERV 13, a hospital-grade filter, according to the district's website. While the MERV 13 filter is not dense enough to capture the COVID-19 virus, it is nearly twice the density of filters the district currently uses, the website says. Because of the greater density, filters will become clogged faster and will be changed twice as often as the current filters.

The district's heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems will also run additional time to increase the number of times the air is exchanged over the course of a day. Running the system beyond the bell time allows air changes to occur without additional virus or other human-generated contaminants being added, helping to clean the air — the district will increase air exchanges by approximately 25%, the website says.

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