SOUTHERN COLORADO — The Colorado Department of Education released new guidance Monday for schools to reopen next semester amidst coronavirus concerns. However, local districts still have a large say in what exactly their schooling will look like in the fall.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment spearheaded the guidelines using information from the American Academy of Pediatrics in their research. The guidance is also organized by the three different phases — Stay at Home, Safer at Home, and Protect Our Neighbors — representing the current state of coronavirus in varying communities.
According to CDE's website, local public health agencies can declare the phase for their county or area by using a certain set of metrics. News5 reached out to El Paso County Public Health for more information on this topic, and they said they will have a more comprehensive answer in the coming days.
The goals of the guidance are as follows:
- Maximize in-person learning in a safe and healthy way as possible
- Ensure a reasonable level of safety for students and staff for in-person learning
- Minimize disruptions to education by facilitating timely responses to COVID-19 through cohorting students and staff when possible, screening for symptomatic individuals, and coordinating closely with local and state public health agencies
- Ensure equity in educational opportunity by considering the learning and health needs of all students, including those with varying health conditions, economic backgrounds, language skills, or educational needs
- Encourage flexibility, adaptation, and innovation as schools develop novel approaches to disease control appropriate to local contexts and as scientific knowledge about COVID-19 transmission and control develops
There is guidance for schools regardless of the phase of the virus at the time. CLICK HERE to read the complete list of guidelines.
Some of those include physical distance, which applies to middle and high schools strongly. The guidelines state that a six-foot distance is preferable, but three feet of distance is still beneficial.
Classes will also move around in what's being dubbed a cohort. These groups of students and teachers are encouraged to limit their contact with other people, in order to lessen the number of individuals who may be exposed to the virus if a positive case is detected.
If there is a confirmed COVID-19 case found at a school, there would be a shift back to remote learning.
Also, face masks are encouraged for children 10 and under, and they are required for students ages 11 and older. Staff will also wear masks throughout the day.
Both El Paso County and Pueblo County are in the Safer at Home phases. When looking at those guidelines, it states that students in grades K through 5 can have normal class sizes, and do not have to meet the six-foot rule of physical distancing. However, for grades 6 through 12, local school districts will decide the appropriate number of people allowed in a classroom, while working to keep the six-foot rule intact.
Jessica Weckx was formerly a fourth-grade teacher who is taking on fifth grade this year at Corwin International Magnet School. "I'm actually kind of disappointed by how little actual meat there is [within the state guidance]... I understand that they need to have, they wanted to provide some flexibility so that way schools could have some autonomy, and they didn't want to provide a one size fits all solution for schools," said Weckx.
Weckx said for every safety measure implemented, there is a logistical one that needs attention. For instance, she said masks will add on a new dynamic for teachers. "If you're going to wear a mask, how much do you tell a child who's chosen to wear a mask to keep it on?... Teachers are going to have to take on a new role," said Weckx.
Weckx said she knows fellow teachers have organized their will before heading back to campus. "I know that there's a real risk walking back into that classroom... I don't know, maybe I keep thinking if I don't do it, it won't happen. It's something I'm not ready to face yet," said Weckx.
Pueblo School District 70 is having a board meeting Tuesday evening, where they will vote on what the semester will look like in the coming months. It could include in-person learning, remote learning, or a hybrid model of the two. "Lots of concerns for student safety, for staff safety in the building. And then there's an equal amount of concern for students learning at home not being able to get the one-on-one interactions that they need," said Todd Seip, the public information officer for School District 70.
One of the big questions from the district was in regard to classroom size. "It doesn't look like they've got specific numbers on how many students can be in a class, or how many students can be in the school. They're leaving that really up to the schools to decide," said Seip.
Weckx believes, regardless of the state guidance, that a remote learning model is best, even though she was initially concerned about this style of teaching. She also said she imagines there will have to be a reduction in in-person learning if allowed in certain districts in the fall. "We will return to remote learning. The school year will not be normal. And, I think the best thing people can do is if you're a parent prep your kids for inconsistency and try to stay positive," predicts Weckx.
To read through all three of the state's guidance for the different phases, CLICK HERE.