PUEBLO, Colorado — Tens of thousands of families in Southern Colorado are getting a better idea of what to expect when it comes to sending their children back to school next month. Colorado Springs School District 11 and Pueblo City Schools District 60 both announced plans to reopen for in-person learning in August for those families who would prefer it.
Those who are more comfortable keeping their children home can return to online learning when school starts. The first day of school in D-11 will be Monday, August 17. Schools will open in D-60 two weeks later on August 31.
Parents overwhelmingly told administrators in surveys last month that they want their kids to return to class. Between 70 and 75 percent of parents in District 11 said they prefer in-person learning. In Pueblo, 87 percent of parents said they want schools to reopen.
"It's an opportunity for students to interact with their peers which is so critical to their well-being, and we also know that they provide an opportunity for our families to go to work every day," said Suzanne Morey, Assistant Superintendent in D-60.
D-11 spokesperson Devra Ashby notes that the number of coronavirus cases in El Paso County has increased since that survey occurred. They plan to ask parents their preference for a second time later this summer.
The schools are taking precautions to keep everyone safe. Mask wearing is mandatory unless medically exempt. Disposable masks will be provided to students who forget or lose their masks. Cafeteria schedules will be staggered to allow for more physical space between students at lunch tables.
Ashby said many teachers are already planning to maximize outdoor time with their students.
"Outdoor classrooms, outdoor lunchtime, recess will be used as mask breaks," she said. "We're scheduling into the day hygiene breaks for students to be able to wash their hands, be able to have a mask break."
Both local districts plan to use a cohort system to keep smaller groups of students together inside of the bigger and busier middle and high schools.
Morey explained that students in 6th through 12th grade will have a hybrid schedule where two days a week are spent at school and the other two days are used for online learning at home. D-60 switched to a 4 day school week two years ago.
"We thought ahead and we ordered laptops, Chromebooks, for every student in grades 2 through 12, and iPads for every student in K-1," Morey said.
The district will work with families who do not have an internet connection at home. Some may receive wireless internet hotspots from the district. Others may be able to enroll in a discounted service plan with providers.
In D-11, Ashby said middle school students will operate on a block-system where cohorts will have 90-minute lessons on single subjects for a short part of the year. The idea is to limit their exposure to other students and teachers by changing classes less frequently.
High school students in D-11 will have a similar two-on and two-off hybrid schedule like D-60. However, every Wednesday will be reserved as a Student Connecting Day.
"A Student Connecting Day can mean holding office hours, working one-on-one with students, providing social-emotional learning time, providing study skills time," Ashby explained.
Administrators in both districts are in contact daily with their respective county health departments to keep up-to-date on coronavirus trends. They ask parents for patience because circumstances could always change between now and late August.
Additionally, Morey asks parents who are unsure about choosing in-person or online learning to commit to one or the other for at least a semester. The schools make their staffing plans based on parent input. There will be an opportunity to switch during the winter break.