Douglas County School District interim Superintendent Corey Wise hopes to see middle and high schools resume in-person learning, five days a week in March.
Wise announced in a Feb. 25 letter to the community he will recommend a switch to in-person learning at the March 2 school board meeting. Under Wise’s proposal, secondary schools would make the transition on March 22. That is the start of schools’ fourth quarter, making it “a natural time to begin,” his letter said.
“The number of employees who have already received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine (or have an appointment scheduled) is exceeding our expectations,” Wise said in the announcement.
Colorado Community Media requested an interview with Wise through a spokeswoman on Feb. 23 regarding the district’s plans to launch full in-person learning. Wise has not responded to that request.
While elementary students began full, in-person learning on Jan. 5, middle and high school students started the second semester with full remote learning, until they launched a “Hybrid 2.0” model earlier this month.
Among changes from last semester’s hybrid model, secondary students now receive live instruction at all times, alternating between attending class virtually and in-person.
Wise has said throughout the semester the district would make plans for a return to full, in-person learning so schools would be ready to change models when that became possible.
His recommendations coming March 2 will be to continue targeted quarantines of students and unvaccinated staff, and to keep up COVID-19 precautions such as masking, increased ventilation, seating charts and social distancing.
Students enrolled in the district’s “eLearning” program, the fully online option, will remain in that learning model this school year.
Wise urged the community to continue slowing the virus’ spread to support plans for a full return. Keep students home when sick, monitor children’s health, minimize multiple household gatherings and out-of-state travel during spring break, he said.
District leadership and board members hope to send students back full-time during the 2021-22 school year as well, he said. The district is still examining the possibility of continuing its online learning model next year.
Wise emphasized that board members and district leaders have wanted a return to in-person learning since last summer. As the district maneuvered the pandemic, leadership has pointed to COVID-19 incidence rates and logistical issues such as substitute teacher shortages as two of the major pressure points influencing which model the district put into place at a given time.
So too has community feedback.
In January, board members broke with Wise’s recommendation to launch hybrid learning that month. They voted to wait until February amid pushback from some students and teachers who said the first semester’s hybrid model was flawed.
Board directors have also heard consistent calls from some parents for 100% in-person learning, and a recall effort is underway to oust four directors, partly over the board’s pandemic response.
Wise said the decision to go back in-person comes after constant monitoring of COVID-19 and the consideration of “the diverse voices of staff, students, parents and community members.”
“It’s difficult to believe that it has been nearly a year since we first transitioned students to remote learning (following spring break 2020) due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wise wrote. “Our teachers, principals and other staff are ready to increase the in-person learning time for all students.”
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