Back-to-school will look much different this year as COVID-19 has reshaped all areas of public life, including education. As school districts are looking to adapt to the new normal, leaders are grappling with a number of challenges, including how to keep students and employees safe amid a public health crisis while reopening school buildings.
Both Boulder Valley School District and St. Vrain Valley School District have made public their plans for hybrid learning, which includes a careful balance of in-person and online classes, face mask requirements and stringent cleaning protocol. Still, plans need to remain flexible so that they can be adjusted should the pandemic better or worsen.
“I will not sugarcoat this: This situation is not ideal,” Rob Anderson, superintendent of Boulder Valley School District said in a letter to parents. “What the planning educators around the world have been doing during this pandemic is perhaps the most complex work ever seen in education.”
Keeping students and teachers at a safe distance during the school day and meeting public health rules as they continually change are difficult charges,
Schools in Boulder Valley will begin on Aug. 26, a delayed start so that the district can train employees on new protocols and better practices around at home learning.
The back-to-school start date for students in St. Vrain is Aug. 18.
Meanwhile, as of press time, Adams 12 Five Star Schools has not yet announced its learning plan for the 2020-2021 school year and Superintendent Chris Gdowski says officials want to develop plans responsive to the most up-to-date COVID-19 data and public health guidance. Final plans are being reviewed by the Board of Education and detailed guidance will be shared with families no later than July 30, according to Christina Dahmen, communications manager for the district.
Here, a look at how local schools are planning for a return of students and learning during these unprecedented times.
Boulder Valley School District
Boulder Valley students in kindergarten through 12th grade will attend school in person two days a week and online two days a week, according to the district’s current plan. BVSD is also offering an opt-out option for in-person learning so students can solely participate in at-home learning. The aim in this phase is to keep students in small, consistently socially distant groups.
The way the schedule is set up, K-12 students will be in either Group A or Group B. Group A students will have in-school classes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays while Group B will be in school on Thursdays and Fridays. Special education students will have the opportunity to participate in four days of in-person learning if they are willing and medically able to do so. Two of the school days would be in the intensive special education environment and the other two would be in the general education cohort.
School buildings will be closed on Mondays for teacher planning and cleaning, and students will have independent assignments.
“Cohorting” students by keeping them in class pods is a strategy that’s recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. BVSD officials say that the cohort approach will help them manage interactions and conduct contract tracing and quarantine measures if students or employees are exposed to the virus.
Boulder Valley has adopted a five-phase model for student learning amid the coronavirus pandemic that ranges from fully in person to fully virtual based on the severity of COVID-19 in the county. BVSD is reopening for the 2020-2021 school year in “Phase 3.” If conditions improve, the district will consider adding more in-person classes and will give families and staff at least two weeks of notice before making the shift.
Students and staff will be asked to conduct at-home health screenings, taking their temperature and checking for COVID-19 symptoms before showing up to school.
Once at school, a limited number of people will be allowed in the building at any given time and students will be spaced six feet apart. Desks will be spaced six feet apart and BVSD has also invested in plexiglass partitions for added protections.
Students will have limited access to areas in the building and have designated bathrooms as well.
All students and staff members will be required to wear face covers while indoors and when physical distancing is not possible outdoors. The district will make exceptions to this requirement for health or education reasons as well as during lunch and at times when students are socially distanced. Students are required to not just wear a clean face cover to school every day, but also have a backup on hand. Employees will be provided with protective gear including face covers, gloves, hand sanitizer, face shields and safety glasses.
Students will also be encouraged to wash their hands often with soap and water or apply hand sanitizer frequently. They’ll be given ample free time to access sanitizing stations and to wash their hands. They’ll be asked to wash their hands when arriving and leaving home; arriving at and leaving school; after playing outside; after having close contact with others; after using shared surfaces or tools; before and after bathroom breaks; after blowing their noses, coughing or sneezing and before and after eating.
Additionally, the school district will have an increased focus on cleaning high-touch areas, which includes doorknobs, sinks, desks and seats. Bathrooms will be cleaned multiple times throughout the day. Cafeteria tables will be disinfected between each group of students. Not only will schools be cleaned and disinfected every night, but also throughout the day.
Maintenance staff has also made sure that schools’ ventilation systems are operating in a way that increase the circulation of outdoor air as much as possible. Teachers are also encouraged to open up windows so long as it doesn’t pose a health or safety risk, like triggering asthma symptoms. BVSD is also consulting with air quality consultants to figure out the best way to cool buildings without air conditioning.
At the center of Boulder Valley’s plans for the upcoming school year is a commitment to make decisions not based on fear or emotion, but on the best data available from public health partners.
“It is paramount that we keep our students, teachers and community safe,” Anderson said in his letter to parents. “Nothing is more important than protecting lives.”
For updates visit: bvsd.org/parents-students/academics/covid-19-reintroduction.
St. Vrain Valley School District’s Plan for Re-opening
St. Vrain Valley School District is also moving forward with a hybrid model of in-person and virtual learning.
Also, all students have the option to enroll in the fully online learning program, St. Vrain LaunchED. The program offers preschool through 12th grade classes that are taught by St. Vrain Valley teachers and delivered via Schoology, a learning management system. Students who opt for online only learning will remain affiliated with their school of record, though.
Since class sizes are smaller, preschool students will attend school in-person according to the schedule offered at their schools.
Elementary, middle and high school students will have a hybrid schedule where they’ll be assigned to one of two cohorts. Group 1 students will attend in-person school Mondays, Wednesdays, and every-other Friday. Group 2 will attend in-person school on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and every-other Friday. On days when they’re not physically in school, they’ll have real-time online learning with their classroom teacher or independent work that’s been assigned.
“While this is our plan at this time, our goal is to return to full-time in-person learning for all students as soon as our local and state health departments determine that it is safe to do so,” St. Vrain Valley School District Superintendent Don Haddad said in the latest update on reopening plans. “Additionally, the evolving nature of this health crisis will require us to remain flexible as we plan for the start of the 2020-2021 school year and beyond.”
Safety remains the top priority for St. Vrain Valley officials and they’ve launched a “Safe with 7 campaign.”
As part of the campaign, they are asking families to screen their students at home before sending them to school. Students will also be required to wear face masks at school. School officials, recognizing it can be difficult for younger students to wear masks all day, will work to schedule socially distanced breaks and provide exceptions for certain documented medical conditions.
The district has also been working with its operations team to make sure its HVAC systems are operating at high capacity to support quality airflow and ventilation in classrooms and buildings. Additional custodial staff was hired, middle and high school students will not be assigned lockers and social distancing will be maintained as much as possible through one-directional hallways and staggered recesses. Also, students will be spaced apart to the fullest distance possible in classrooms.
If school officials become aware of a case of COVID-19 in a classroom or a school environment, Boulder County Public Health has assigned an epidemiologist and several contact tracers to St. Vrain who will work closely with our district nurses and leadership to determine and guide next steps.
For updates, visit: coronavirus.svvsd.org.
Adams 12 Five-Star Schools’ Plan for Re-opening
As of press time, Adams 12 Five Star Schools has not yet announced its learning plan for the 2020-2021 school year and Superintendent Chris Gdowski says officials want to develop plans responsive to the most up-to-date COVID-19 data and public health guidance. Final plans are being reviewed by the Board of Education and detailed guidance will be shared with families no later than July 30, according to Christina Dahmen, communications manager for the district.
For updates, visit: adams12.org/onward.
By Brittany Anas for Raised in the Rockies.