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Why reopening middle and high schools now seems more doable in Denver – – Colorado Springs, Colorado

Colorado Springs, Colorado 2020-12-11 07:29:13 –


This story was originally published by Chalkbeat, Colorado. For more information, please visit chalkbeat.org.

The Denver School District is making tentative but important efforts. If health permits, reopen classrooms for junior high and high school students in January.

While elementary school students returned to the school building this fall, the number of COVID-19 cases increased and the interaction between students and teachers was restricted, making it difficult to run junior high and high schools.

So what has changed? Why is Denver Public School confident that resuming middle and high school classrooms will be more tolerable in January than this fall?

District officials and one of the doctors who advised them mentioned several factors.

Perhaps most importantly, their growing understanding that COVID is not widespread in schools when safety measures such as wearing masks, social distance and frequent hand washing are in place.

“The basics of COVID prevention work very well,” said Dr. Bill Berman of Denver Public Health. He has advised the district on its reopening plans.

From August to November, there were nearly 300 outbreaks in schools from kindergarten to high school in Colorado, but the median outbreak was relatively small, with 3 to 5 outbreaks each.

When local public health officials first developed a dashboard to help Denver Public Schools determine when face-to-face lessons can be safely held, 100 reds per 100,000 inhabitants over the last 14 years. You have set the level (meaning a flashing warning light). days.

However, Berman said the school has since shown that it can operate safely if the community’s infection goes beyond that. Even in 500, 600, or 700 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. As of Thursday, Denver County reported an average of 748 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

“What does” safe “mean? The rate of infection in schools is low, “Berman said.

“The higher the community rate, the more cases are diagnosed between students and staff. That’s not surprising. We’re not an NBA-style bubble,” he said.

Read more about Colorado Sun’s educational story.

But even as the number of cases increased this fall, he said, “the school’s reputation for infection remained low.”

The assessment led health authorities to advise the district on another important change. That is to more than triple the number of students allowed to interact directly.

Instead of limiting the number of classmates a junior high school or high school student can interact with to 35, as the school district proposed this fall, students will be assigned to a cohort of up to 120 children.

District officials were unable to respond to the interview this week, but explained the details at the Public Board of Education on Wednesday.

According to new district rules, a small middle school or high school can be reopened in individual class sizes not exceeding 35 students. Large schools can operate on a hybrid schedule, with half of the students attending directly two days a week and the other half attending for another two days.

In large high schools, face-to-face classes are limited to 17 students. Teachers can teach up to eight classes, each of which can be open to 136 students.

New district rules may allow secondary schools to operate almost normally. But it’s not clear if that will happen. Some high schools told Chalkbeat that they were still developing their plans.

Some schools choose to continue teaching online, but because the majority of students choose to be remote or a significant number of teachers have accommodation to work from home. This allows students to take virtual lessons from school.

The reason for keeping the cohort small is to minimize the number of people who have to be quarantined if a student or teacher gets sick, Berman said. Increasing the size of the cohort is a trade-off, he said: it allows for more face-to-face learning, but may lead to more quarantine. Public health officials have also found that a larger cohort is associated with a larger outbreak.

The new state guidance should reduce the number of students in quarantine. This guidance allows schools to quarantine close relationships with sick people rather than the entire classroom or cohort.

It is especially important for teachers. The district foreman often cited a shortage of staff as a reason to switch schools from face-to-face to distance learning this fall.

According to the same state guidance, teachers wearing KN95 masks and eye protection do not need to be quarantined unless they are within 6 feet of the sick for a cumulative 15 minutes. Colorado has promised to provide all teachers in the state with one KN95 mask per week, certified in China and equipped with a filter facepiece respirator.

“We have KN95 masks available to all teachers, so it’s important for teachers to wear them consistently,” interim superintendent Dwight Jones told the school board Wednesday. “That’s what we communicate with and actually work with teachers.”

Former Denver teacher Carrie Olson, who is currently teaching at college, said he understands that KN95 masks can be uncomfortable.

“I’m with all the teachers who say,’It’s hard to teach in it!'” It’s hard to hear your voice, “Olson said. “We all need to get used to it. As one teacher said,” I will work on it as long as I can bring the students back to the classroom. “

Data submitted to the school board on Wednesday but not publicly discussed show that participation in distance learning is declining despite stable attendance. Students are attending virtual classes, but fewer have completed assignments.

Elementary school students participated less than junior high school students and high school students, and the number decreased slightly. Kindergarteners showed the sharpest decline, from 84% in September to 56% in November.

Chalkbeat is a non-profit news site that covers changes in public school education.

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