DENVER — Denver Public Schools won't hold in-person classes until at least mid-October, according to a letter from Superintendent Susana Cordova on Wednesday.
The district was already planning to do remote learning for the first two weeks of school, through Labor Day, but will now extend the plan for remote instruction through Oct. 16 for most students.
"We’ll be working hard to safely and gradually welcome all students back into schools, when health conditions allow," Cordova wrote.
Cordova in a news conference Wendesday said "it became increasingly challenging" for the district to create plans to cohort students while also staying within health guidelines for in-person instruction.
A small group of students considered to be high priority for in-person learning could return as soon as Sept. 8, but definite plans have not been made. The district's youngest students would also be prioritized to return for in-person learning, Cordova said.
"Our overriding priority throughout this challenging time has been — and continues to be — safeguarding the health and well-being of our community," Cordova wrote in the letter. "And the value driving our decisions is equity. Families don't feel safe, and the pandemic is disproportionately impacting communities of color."
Denver is the state's largest school district with more than 90,000 students.
The district earlier this month had said it planned to begin the year with in-person classes but later changed plans after discussing the plans with the district community and staff.
When school does return to in-person instruction, an array of social distancing measures and other COVID-19 precautions will be in place. Proposed plans call for changes to how many students will be allowed on buses, a change in daily classload to limit student interactions, and other changes, such as no use of lockers and no eating in cafeterias.
Cordova on Wednesday outline some of the district's strategy for remote learning, including an emphasis on live virtual lessons. Students and parents reported a higher rate of engagement among students when lessons were conducted live, as opposed to recorded. Cordova said the district would also emphasized the importance of teachers having office hours for students gain one-on-one instruction and feedback.
While classes will be held remotely for the first quarter of the year, the district's meal service program will still be available. Cordova also said the district does not plan to lay off any employees or put any employees on furlough.
Employees who might not be able to do their job remotely could be given other assignments until in-person instruction resumes.
The Denver Classroom Teachers Association on Wednesday said it supported Cordova's plan to push back in-person learning.
"We need to prioritize people’s lives and focus on quality instruction, instead of scrambling to open before the community and the schools are reads," the union said in a statement. "Extending remote learning allows more time to collaborate around meticulous plans for in-person reopenings. We appreciate that the superintendent has been responsive to the voice of educators and look forward to our continued dialogue with the district."