Jeffco Schools now considering a 50% return to classrooms

Some parents against hybrid learning, but district says health guidelines come first

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Jeffco's June 4 Board of Education meeting provided the first chance during the pandemic for community members to give public comment over video conferencing.

And as a long line of parents began to share their thoughts, it became apparent that the majority of those who spoke would vastly prefer that their children return to school in the fall as normal, as opposed to what has been outlined in the district's Restart Plan.

Shared with parents May 22, the plan requires several practices, such as six feet physical distancing of anybody in a school building and hand-washing protocols. Even more notable has been the part of the plan that asks students to engage in hybrid learning — some in-person learning and some remote — meaning students would complete their education remotely for at least 50% of school days.

In this model, half of students might attend on “A” days and the other half on “B” days, making space for physical distancing and limiting the number of students in contact with one another.

But when parents like Arvada mom Brittany Dunn spoke, they pointed to data that shows school-aged children rarely experience severe symptoms related to COVID-19.

“I'm having a hard time understanding why such drastic measures are being taken,” Dunn said. “Just as grocery stores are essential in our community, so are our school buildings.”

Dunn suggested that instead of requiring hybrid learning, families should have two choices. Those who are uncomfortable sending their child to in-person school can engage in 100% remote learning. Meanwhile, others should have the option to send their children to school every day of the week, she said, with many of the other parents who spoke agreeing with her.

But others, including math teacher Ernest Garibay of Standley Lake High School, argued that while teachers would love to see the return of normal school days, it isn't safe to make that the number one priority.

“I believe student and staff health must take precedence over any other decision that we make,” he said.

To be sure, this opinion was the one that members of the district team and school board aligned with.

It is true that children rarely exhibit severe COVID-19 symptoms, Superintendent Jason Glass said. But students become carriers of the disease and when they go home, they put their families and the broader community at risk, he said.

Even so, the team highlighted some changes since its last presentation.

Guidelines are suggesting that in the fall, closer to 16 people may be able to be in the room at one time, as opposed to the previous number of 10. This could prevent the need for an ABC or ABCD schedule, which would see students attend in person just one day a week.

Further, because a number of other countries have tried bringing all elementary-aged students back for in-person learning Monday through Friday, Jeffco may do the same thing. This could address parents' worries about child care, deputy superintendent Kristopher Schuh said.

For secondary students, the district is still planning to move forward with an AB schedule, unless health guidelines change.

Jeffco has been collecting community members' feedback on the Restart Plan and will gather more input through the month of June. It will publish an official plan July 8.

At the time of the presentation, the community survey had more than 13,000 responses.

Results showed that about 41.2% of respondents want the school year to start Aug. 24 and not the earlier proposed date of Aug. 18. This would allow teachers more time to prepare for new protocols, like one-way hallways. Jeffco is strongly considering the Aug. 24 option.

Results also showed that about 10% of 13,267 respondents said they were unlikely to, or certainly not going to, send their children for in-person instruction next year, instead opting for a 100% remote education.

There is also a survey question asking if families would prefer a fully remote environment, fully in-person environment, alternating day schedule or alternating week schedule.

While the presentation slides showed 41% of parents preferred an alternating day schedule and 19% prefer an alternating week, they did not break down percentages for the other two options.

However, Schuh and board members emphasized that above all, the Restart Plan's main goal is to maximize in-person time while adhering to public health standards.

“Our parents want their students to be at school, so that's what we want,” Schuh said. “But we're also going to be prepared.”

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