The Douglas County School Board has approved a framework, or general concepts, for reopening the district in August along with recommended contingency plans if schools cannot return to business as usual because of COVID-19 restrictions.
At this time, the district plans to reopen schools to in-person learning in the fall and provide students an experience as close to normal as possible.
That could change at any time if the governor or the state and local health departments issue new guidance amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Superintendent Thomas Tucker said during the June 23 school board meeting.
And while directors approved frameworks for reopening schools, they are still waiting for more details about how the district will accomplish those goals. Directors asked district staff to return with more specific action plans for reopening schools at a later date.
The recommendations and contingency plans heard June 23 were drafted by a task force of 200 people — students, teachers, parents — broken into focus groups. Approximately 2,000 people had applied to serve on the task force.
“To my knowledge,” Chief Academic Officer Marlena Gross Taylor said, “we have never had an outpouring of participation as we’ve had during this particular task force.”
The task force recommended requiring students to wear face coverings and maintain a distance of six feet from others whenever possible. As of now, the district is operating on the assumption that group gatherings will still be capped at 10 people.
The task force also recommended the district prepare guides to help families conduct health screenings at home. District staff would conduct temperature checks on students before they entered school if students were not prescreened at home or if a student became symptomatic.
Urging families to conduct health screens at home “would be key to allowing students to enter our schools in a timely manner,” Chief Operations Officer Rich Cosgrove said.
The task force recommended the nutrition services department continue serving meals but suggested having students eat in classrooms during longer lunch periods.
The requirements for transportation services are still unclear and could present one of the most significant challenges to reopening, Cosgrove said. If six feet is required between students, the district could transport nine students on a 77-person bus, Cosgrove said.
The district could also seek permission from the Tri-County Health Department and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to allow up to 24 people spaced out on a 77-person bus, he said.
The task force recommended eliminating transportation not required under school board policy, such as for field trips, and eliminating stops closest to schools before stopping service for more distant locations and rural routes.
If the district cannot return to in-person learning, the task force recommended a hybrid model for secondary school students while maintaining full days, five days a week at the elementary level.
“We know our youngest learners need as much in-person instruction as we can possibly give them,” Danelle Hiatt said, an executive director of schools in the Castle Rock region.
The full-day elementary plan would require a variance. If this option were not feasible, the task force recommended dividing elementary students into A and B cohorts and having the cohorts alternate days with Friday as an eLearning day.
Middle, high school and alternative students would attend two days in-person and three days remotely under the recommended contingency plan. Schools would be deep-cleaned on Wednesdays.
The district will offer an eLearning option to students who are not comfortable returning to school in-person or who are unable to do so. The eLearning program will be more robust and comprehensive than the remote learning conducted when COVID-19 shuttered the district this year, Gross Taylor said.
Matt Reynolds, the district’s chief assessment and data officer, said the district conducted two main surveys while the task force drafted its plans.
The first garnered 17,200 responses — 10,358 from parents, 4,713 from students, 1,367 from teachers and additional responses from staff. The second survey, a Contingency Restart Scenario Survey, saw nearly 27,000 parents and more than 4,000 staff respond, Reynolds said.
Both surveys closed June 22. According to results, 76% of parents and 62% of staff believed students would or should return to school in August.
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