Denver Public Schools on track for in-person classes despite rise in local COVID-19 cases

Although the number of COVID-19 cases is on the rise in Denver, the circumstances are not concerning enough to change the plan to reopen Denver Public Schools, Superintendent Susana Cordova said Tuesday.

Cordova said she has been closely eyeing a district dashboard intended to evaluate the safety of reopening schools. Two of the three indicators DPS is tracking — the number of COVID-19 cases and the trend in cases over a two-week period — are currently in the red zone, meaning it’s possibly unsafe to reopen schools.

However, experts at Denver Health and the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment told DPS the upticks in both metrics are not cause for concern because they are limited to college communities, Cordova said.

“At this time, they’re not concerned that this increase is an indication of widespread community spread,” she said, “and they have encouraged us to continue monitor this while we continue our slow, gradual, safe re-entry for in-person learning.”

DPS students began the fall semester remotely, but the district is now phasing them in by grade for in-person learning — except for those whose families choose to stay remote. About 30% have enrolled in DPS’ 100% virtual schooling option, Cordova said.

The district’s preschools opened in mid-September. Starting Sept. 28, all kindergarteners, some first-graders, and all special education students in second through fifth grades will begin in-person classes.

The district will welcome back all first-grade students starting Oct. 5. Second- through fifth-grade students will begin full-time in-person learning Oct. 21 — the same day secondary schools will open and begin operating on a hybrid schedule for students who opt to attend in person.

Hybrid schedules may vary by school, Cordova said, but all will have a minimum of 10 hours of face-to-face instruction. Some plan to have students alternate attending in the mornings and in the afternoons, while others may have students alternate coming in on specific days. All students will supplement classes with remote work or virtual classes under the hybrid model.

Though the situation around COVID-19 in Denver County remains suitable for in-person learning now, Cordova acknowledged that could change overnight. That’s why the district is trying to limit cohort sizes to about 35 students and will soon launch a DPS-specific COVID dashboard to keep families informed about cases that pop up.

“We wanted to make sure that our opening was erring on the conservative side with a more assertive stance of trying to limit the amount of disruptions that can happen because of quarantining,” Cordova said. “Based on guidance from Denver Health, we felt like going with these more conservative (cohort) numbers would safeguard our time in school, would limit the amount of exposure, both students with each other as well as our staff with our students, and would give us the greatest opportunity to safely reopen and keep kids in school.”

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