COLORADO SPRINGS — As the school guidance on COVID-19 sets to expire, the State Board of Education has sent a letter to Governor Jared Polis urging little to no state-level regulation of in-person learning next school year.
Members believe unrestricted in-person learning is best for students, and trust superintendents and local boards to make decisions that best support their students, families, and communities. Especially since the experience gained during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as in previous years of experience mitigating influenza and other infectious disease outbreaks, have taught superintendents and their staff what strategies work best in their communities.
"I think it should be up to the teachers and parents more than the districts. If I want to send my child to school not vaccinated and she's willing to go and feel good then that's what we should do. If I don't feel comfortable then I should leave my child home," said Jacqueline Brown, Widefield School District 3 parent. "
She has three children in Widefield School District 3 and says parents should have more input on school guidance.
"I hope it is left up to the schools and then the schools ask the parents and students what they want. That's what I'm hoping for this upcoming school year," said Brown.
To ensure students have a normal fall semester, members of the State Board say it's important to prioritize both academic progress and mental health.
"During the upcoming 2021-22 school year, superintendents and local boards must have the authority to make decisions in support of unrestricted in-person learning," the letter said. “With COVID transmission rates at a much less dangerous level, we believe it is safe to return to our normal operating practice in Colorado of giving superintendents and local boards the authority to make sound decisions about instruction and school procedures.”
Some educators have mixed emotions over the proposal and the transparency that may not come from districts making the decision.
"My concern is so much of this pandemic has become politicized. Local school boards are elected, local school boards whether we want to admit it or not are guided by politics. I really want to make sure the people making decisions for the health and well-being of students, teachers, and communities are the people that have the expertise to do so," said Angela Bird, Widefield Education Association.
She wouldn't mind local control over COVID-19 regulations as long as county health departments are leading the charge.
"If it's the health departments then I'm all for it, let's do it. If it's the local school boards then I'm extremely hesitant, and I don't believe all local school boards will follow the health and science that's best for students," said Bird.
With the current school guidance expiring July 3rd, Bird says she wants to see the state continue with its instruction.
"I think the state health department did a wonderful job this spring with schools and giving some of that control to local health departments. Districts working with their local health departments for quarantines, mask guidance, and all of these kinds of things," said Bird.
"Going forward with the new guidance, I want to get back to normal. Don't know what normal is anymore but I want to go back to kids being kids, I want to get back to sports. I love sports, we all love sports and we've missed out all so much the last seasons. Not being able to see my kid play sports or friends, it's huge. To be able to see that is going to be amazing and I want an amazing school year," said Brown.
She hopes there is more parent involvement moving forward, especially when it comes to decision-making.
"I hope they listen to parents. I hope they put a mass letter out there and say please vote. Let's go back to voting, let's see what the public wants," said Brown.
New school guidance will be a culmination of best practices, while also considering vaccination and disease transmission levels. There are plans to engage education stakeholders, including school districts and educators.