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Kids play foursquare beneath light flurries before class begins at Carson Elementary, March 13, 2020.

Kids play foursquare beneath light flurries before class begins at Carson Elementary, March 13, 2020. | Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Get news and updates on Colorado school districts’ evolving fall plans below.

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Sept. 10

State provides new guidance on learning pods, waives certain child care rules

As families formed learning pods to help their children navigate remote learning, they may have run afoul of state requirements that people get a license if they’re offering child care in their home to more than four children at a time.

A new executive order signed Thursday by Gov. Jared Polis waives several licensing requirements that would normally apply to home day cares, in order to facilitate learning pods. That means families hosting students in their homes won’t have to worry about complaining neighbors, as long as the numbers remain relatively small.

The executive order suspends the requirement to get a home child care license if:

  • There are eight or fewer children aged 10 or older in a home or facility for the purpose of supporting a learning pod.
  • There are five or fewer children aged 6 to 9 in a home or facility for the purpose of supporting a learning pod.

The executive order also directs the Colorado Department of Human Services to give licensed child care centers flexibility to serve more children. Family child care providers could care for one additional school-aged child in their home and larger child care centers could care for two additional school-aged children compared with their normal cap. Child care providers could also get a waiver to not count their own children toward their cap.

At the same time, officials with the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Department of Human Services released guidance for parents about learning pods that includes instructions for doing a background check on anyone supervising children and a request to register learning pods with the state.

The guidance urges parents to first look for licensed child care in the area before turning to unlicensed care.

“Licensed child care remains the best, safest option for children,” Mary Anne Snyder, director of the state’s Office of Early Childhood, said in a press release. “Licensed child care is inspected and rated by the state, and licensed programs must support children’s health and safety, ensure staff are well-trained and effective, ensure individuals complete comprehensive background checks, and provide a supportive learning environment.”

The guidance reminds parents to discuss emergency contacts, emergency evacuation and alternative pickup sites, discipline strategies, and how meals and snacks will be provided with their learning pod partners. It also provides tips for reducing the risk of COVID exposure within a learning pod.

— Erica Meltzer

Sept. 9

Adams 12 students could return to in-person learning by October

Elementary students in Adams 12 would return to full-time in-person instruction starting Oct. 1 if the school board approves the plan proposed by Superintendent Chris Gdowski on Thursday night. The plan calls for middle and high school students to return to school in a hybrid model, attending two days a week in person and working remotely three days a week. Any student wishing to continue with full-time remote learning would have that option.

While students opting for either in-person or hybrid instruction would officially start on Thursday, Oct. 1, schools would host in-person orientation session Monday through Wednesday that week.

Adams 12 students have been learning remotely for the last few weeks, though some elementary and middle school students are participating in district-run learning pods supervised by paraprofessionals or other non-teaching staff. There are two to three pods per grade level at all the district’s elementary, middle, and K-8 schools. Once in-person school resumes, pods would no longer be available.

— Ann Schimke

Sept. 2

Denver schools working to open free learning centers after Labor Day

Denver Public Schools could open free learning centers in some of its schools as early as next week. The learning centers would serve as a supervised space for students to do their remote learning, and each center could serve up to 10% of a school’s population, Superintendent Susana Cordova said at a press briefing Wednesday.

At smaller elementary schools, that could be just 25 or 30 students. At larger elementary schools, it could be 65 students. Big middle and high schools could serve even more.

The district is currently offering a paid option at 55 elementary schools. For $10 per day, families can send children ages 5 to 12 to be supervised from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. by staff from Denver’s after-school program, as well as from other community organizations.

But the district hasn’t offered a free option until now. Remote learning began in Denver on Aug. 24 and is expected to last until Oct. 16. However, Cordova has said the district is exploring bringing some elementary students back to school in person before then.

The free learning centers would be separate from that effort. Cordova said the centers would be supervised by Denver Public Schools staff, though she didn’t specify who.

She said schools would prioritize offering learning center spots to students who need reliable internet access, English language learners, students with disabilities, and young students who need help with remote learning.

Parents can expect to hear details about a learning center at their child’s school directly from their child’s principal, Cordova said.

Read more:

Melanie Asmar

Sept. 1

Change in federal regulations means more students can get free school meals

All Colorado children can get free meals at participating school sites this fall, after the federal government changed course on food service rules.

When Colorado school districts closed in the spring, the U.S. Department of Agriculture allowed them to serve all children and still get reimbursed for those meals. Families didn’t even have to attend a school in order to pick up food there. These summer meal program rules, invoked months early, were a key component of efforts to keep children from going hungry.

Those rules were set to expire at the end of August. Most Colorado school districts had said that without federal reimbursement, they would have to charge students for meals unless their families met income eligibility requirements.

That changed this week when the U.S. Department of Agriculture, under pressure from school leaders and advocates, said it would extend the more generous summer food service rules through as late as December, depending on funding availability.

Find more information about food service rules here.

Read more:

— Erica Meltzer

Aug. 28

Denver Public Schools considers earlier return for some elementary students

Based on current public health conditions, Denver Public Schools may bring back some elementary students earlier than originally planned, Superintendent Susana Cordova said Friday in an email to parents.

Denver is holding classes remotely through the end of the first quarter Oct. 16. Cordova made that decision in July when many public health officials were sounding the alarm over the rate of increase in COVID cases. Since then, the number of new cases each day and the percentage of people testing positive have both declined.

Earlier this week the district announced plans to bring preschool students back to school buildings in September. Cordova has also said the district might bring back students who are considered especially vulnerable, including those with disabilities who rely on school-based services and those in the earliest stages of learning English, before October.

But on Friday, she indicated the district is considering a broader return for elementary students. Younger children are at less risk of serious illness and may transmit the virus less efficiently than older children. It’s also harder to meet their needs through online instruction.

In her email, Cordova pointed to the “stoplight metrics” developed by metro area public health agencies to guide reopening decisions. Denver remains between 50 and 100 cases per 100,000 residents, a yellow rating that calls for cautious monitoring, but the rate of increase in new cases in the last two weeks, as well as test positivity, are both rated green.

“Based on our consultation with Denver Health on where the stoplight metrics are today, we believe that we can move forward with a gradual return of more students, particularly at the younger grades,” she wrote. “We will be engaging with our school leaders and educators on what that might look like and potential timing of an earlier return for some students.”

“Through our ongoing collaboration with our school leaders and teachers, we’ve heard from many educators and parents a strong desire to begin offering in-person school for all elementary grades,” Cordova continued. “This is where the remote-learning challenges are the greatest, and we need to make sure we’re maximizing academic growth and whole-child support for our youngest learners, while following all health and safety guidelines.”

Cordova said the color-coded ratings won’t determine on their own whether schools open or close but will guide conversations with public health officials.

Details about which students might return to the classroom and when are still to be determined.

“I know we’re all eager to have our school buildings open and our classrooms buzzing again,” Cordova wrote. “We truly appreciate your continued patience and flexibility as we’ve worked together to ensure we’re using health and safety standards to guide all of our reopening decisions.”

Read more:

— Erica Meltzer

Aug. 21

Cherry Creek bars students from campus over mask violations

On the first day that students were back at Cherry Creek High School, a large group gathered on the grounds and took pictures with friends that they posted to Instagram. In many of the pictures, the students can be seen embracing and leaning on each other. They’re not wearing masks.

Their friends weren’t the only ones checking out their pictures. #suspended, some of the students soon wrote in the comments.

A spokesperson for the Cherry Creek district said the students — 41 in all — were not “suspended” but told to stay home for a week “because of the potential exposure.” More typically, people are told to quarantine for two weeks after a potential exposure.

The students missed one day of instruction, since this was a phase-in week for Cherry Creek students, with one grade level in the building each day. They will be allowed to attend class on Monday.

The students were also issued first mask violations. Multiple violations will result in students being transferred to online school, according to district policy.

“The action taken was out of a concern for health and safety and was based in district protocols around COVID,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

Read more:

— Erica Meltzer

Weld County school district warns students against coming to school while awaiting test results

After sending 11 staff members and 37 students home to quarantine due to possible COVID exposure, a Weld County school district is threatening to suspend students who come to school while waiting for test results.

The Weld Re-4 district based in Windsor brought students back to school this week. On Monday, a district spokeswoman said school was going well, and students seemed to be doing a good job following the rules. On Friday, the district announced that 48 people at Windsor Middle School would have to stay home until Sept. 10 after a student tested positive. The students will have learn online.

The district said it had added COVID testing to its discipline policy. Students who test positive for COVID or who are waiting for test results and who come to school without disclosing that information could be subject to suspension or expulsion.

“As you know, we are trying our best to keep our doors open and students learning in person without disruption for as long as possible,” the district said. “Given that goal, moving forward if your child is awaiting a COVID-19 test, he or she must stay home until you receive the results.”

Read more:

— Erica Meltzer

Aug. 19

About 15% of Denver teachers request to work remotely

In many school districts, teachers who more vulnerable to complications from COVID-19 — or who live with someone who is — can request an accommodation to teach remotely from home.

That’s the case in Denver Public Schools, and Superintendent Susana Cordova on Wednesday said that as of last week, nearly 700 teachers, 32 principals, and about 400 other in-school staff members had requested to work remotely instead.

Denver has about 4,800 teachers, meaning about 15% requested an accommodation.

Cordova said last week that about 30% of Denver students had requested to learn 100% remotely. But students’ decision isn’t binding; families are able to change their minds.

Denver starts school Monday, though instruction will be remote for everyone until at least Oct. 16. After that, the district may reopen campuses for in-person learning.

Read more:

— Melanie Asmar

Aug. 14

Teachers in Sheridan walk out, ask for delay to the first day of school

Sheridan teachers took to the streets Friday afternoon, just before classes are set to start Monday, in protest of what they say are unsafe conditions.

The district had teachers in school buildings this week and last as it prepares for students to return. On Monday one teacher, who had no symptoms, had already tested positive for COVID-19 and went on quarantine along with another staff member who was exposed. A district spokesman said the teacher has now tested negative, but is still saying home as a precaution.

Ashley Richter, communicable disease epidemiologist manager for Tri-County Public Health, said that the process of working with Sheridan went well. The agency also worked this week with Mapleton Public Schools where a teacher there also tested positive.

Both districts are planning for in-person learning in the next couple of weeks, and staff have begun going into school buildings to prepare.

“I don’t think we’re surprised by this,” Richter said. “People are out moving around in the community. So I don’t think that these couple of cases that we’re seeing trigger any change for us. That’s not to say additional positives wouldn’t.”

But not much has calmed fears among teachers this week.

“We feel that cases are inevitable and we are getting that same message from the district,” said Matt Blomquist, teacher and union president in the district. “Our question is why then are we doing this?”

He said teachers are asking the Sheridan school district to stagger the beginning of the school year, starting with a two-week delay, and said that the union resorted to Friday’s walkout after being unable to negotiate changes to specific safety concerns.

For its part, the district put out a statement this week, after a rowdy school board meeting, where it reiterated its plans to start classes Monday. The district detailed safety measures it has put in place such as providing masks, gaiters and face shields for students and staff, and installing touchless water fountains at the high school.

— Yesenia Robles

Aug. 11

Little less than a third of Denver families opting for virtual learning so far

Denver Public Schools is offering families two choices this fall: 100% virtual learning, or an in-person option that will actually start remotely. Though not all families have indicated their preference yet, Superintendent Susana Cordova said Tuesday that about 30% of families have said they prefer 100% virtual learning.

Read more:

Cordova noted that the choice isn’t binding for families, meaning they can change their minds once school starts. That’s a change from a previous requirement that families make a binding decision in August for the first quarter of the school year.

School is scheduled to start in Denver on Aug. 24. All students will learn remotely until at least Oct. 16, when the district will evaluate whether to reopen school campuses. Cordova said local public health officials are working on metrics to determine if doing so is safe.

Read more:

School buildings may reopen sooner than Oct. 16 to small groups of students who would benefit the most from in-person instruction, including preschool students, students with disabilities, and students learning English as a second language, Cordova has said.

On Tuesday, she said the district is also working on setting up “learning centers” at its schools. The idea is similar to what the Adams 12 Five Star district is offering through its free “learning pods”: a supervised place for students to do their virtual learning.

Aug. 4

Four school districts in northern Colorado change plans, will start remotely

Aug. 3

Denver Public Schools joins districts offering COVID testing to staff

July 30

Polis: Going back to school is ‘reasonably safe’

Three more districts join effort to provide free COVID testing to staff

July 28

Adams 14 students will start the school year online

Another Denver charter network will remain remote until at least October

July 27

DSST charter network will stay remote until at least mid-October

July 25

Douglas County schools will start the year on a hybrid schedule

July 23

Polis: A surge of coronavirus testing will follow school-based outbreaks

July 21

Aurora teachers voice concerns over returning to buildings

July 20

Jeffco teachers ask for school year to start remotely, not in classrooms

‘Nothing magical’ about 6 feet: New Colorado school guidance clears way for larger class sizes, more in-person instruction

This content was originally published here.