In-person school delayed in Jeffco schools

Two-week online-only period to start school year

Casey Van Divier
cvandivier@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 7/28/20

Jeffco Public Schools’ July 23 announcement that in-person learning would be postponed sparked mixed reactions in the community. The reactions didn’t only differ from family to family — many …

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In-person school delayed in Jeffco schools

Two-week online-only period to start school year

Posted

Jeffco Public Schools’ July 23 announcement that in-person learning would be postponed sparked mixed reactions in the community. The reactions didn’t only differ from family to family — many individuals said they felt both relief and concern about the news.

“I am deeply concerned about the decision to remote learn for the first two weeks of school. While we all do our best, I’m not sure my kids are learning and experiencing as much as they should,” said Jeffco mom Nicole Trick. “Still, with all my concerns, I am grateful that the school district is listening to the people who work in the schools, lead the schools and also have families. I believe them when they say it isn’t safe for them.”

Jeffco Public Schools has announced that its restart plan is for the first two weeks of school, Aug. 24 through Sept. 4, all students will complete their education in a 100% remote environment.

Additionally, starting Sept. 8, elementary students will have the option to return for in-person learning five days a week, but secondary students will not.

Instead, students in middle and high school will follow a hybrid schedule or A/B schedule, where “group A” students learn in the building on every other day, alternating with “group B.” When a group is not at school in-person, the students will be expected to complete assignments online.

This announcement came 15 days after the district issued its first restart plan, which said that all students would choose between a 100% remote option or 100% in-person option when the school year began.

The plan has been subject to change as the school district continues daily conversations with the state and county health departments, staff members and others.

The initial plan was criticized strongly on July 20, after teachers union Jefferson County Education Association, or JCEA, officially called upon the district to reconsider introducing the 100% in-person option so soon.

Throughout the summer, the JCEA’s primary concern has been that going back to in-person schooling too soon may put community members and staff members at risk, particularly those who fall into the defined high-risk category.

Health concerns heard

With the July 23 announcement pushing back the date for students to return in person, JCEA feels its voice has been more incorporated than it was with the previous plan, said JCEA president Brooke Williams.

“While we look forward to in-person instruction, there is a continued need to further flesh out the details in the current Restart Jeffco plan,” Williams said in a statement.

Elizabeth Morgan, a biology teacher at Lakewood High School, also feels more comfortable with the new plan.

“I think that will give us some time to get new cases and numbers going back down,” she said. “I honestly think this kind of plan is going to make school more stable and consistent for our students. (With the first plan) I just envisioned schools having to close because of outbreaks and teachers having to quarantine more frequently. That would be really inconsistent for our kids and more disruptive.”

Some Jeffco parents, including Wheat Ridge High School parent Susan Carter Ruskell, have also expressed their appreciation of the district taking precautions and listening to the teachers union’s request.

She added that with the hybrid approach for secondary students, the district’s plan to group students into cohorts for the entire day may be more easily managed.

“Based on what I know of my daughter’s planned courses, I anticipate that it would be necessary to have her in four or five different cohorts in order for her to actually attend all of her classes,” Carter Ruskell said. “The hybrid model may provide some additional flexibility for the schools to accommodate students’ schedules.”

Difficult choices

On the other side of the coin, some parents, like Ashley Goode, whose children attend Parr Elementary, feel that if a hybrid option is available for secondary students, it should also be an option for elementary students. Others, like Jeffco parent Jessica Bowlen, said that two weeks of online learning will prevent their children from having the social and academic experiences they need. The original plan struck a better balance between students’ needs and health concerns, she said.

Other Jeffco parents have said they worry that the new plan has not taken different families’ circumstances into account.

For example, Tiffani, a mother of four including three students in Jeffco schools, said online learning isn’t feasible because of her family’s financial situation. The family is currently homeless, she said, and as she works to provide for the family, she cannot also be at home to support her elementary-aged children as they work through online assignments. Tiffani asked that her last name not be used.

“If Jeffco doesn’t go to in-class learning, I don’t know what I will do. I don’t have family close by,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense that people can go gamble, work out and shop, but my kids can’t go back to school. My kids need school for the social aspect.”

Others including Arvada mom Stacey Hytrek also worry about having to work while students are asked to complete remote learning. Hytrek works at a daycare center and expects to be working in-person during the weeks remote learning is required.

“I’m currently torn between choosing my job or staying home to help my children learn,” she said. “The schools are postponing opening and yet daycares remain open. I don’t understand how I am supposed to go care for young children and leave my own children home alone to teach themselves. I’m so stressed I can’t even sleep at night.”

With the start of school less than a month away, parents are now waiting for more information from their specific schools on how remote learning can be built upon after last semester and what an in-person option will look like starting Sept. 8. Jeffco Public Schools said each individual school will send out more detailed information by July 31.

“The opening of schools on Sept. 8 with in-person and hybrid options for Jeffco Public Schools will be contingent on virus levels in our community,” the Jeffco Schools statement added. “Depending on how COVID-19 is spreading in our community, we will move between remote learning, in-person or hybrid learning, and fully in-person learning depending on public health levels as determined by JCPH (Jefferson County Public Health).”

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