Back to School, Back to School…

It was right around March 13, 2020, when students across Colorado stopped most in-person learning because of the Coronavirus pandemic. One year later — literally almost to the day — a significant number of students will be returning to classrooms full time. While many Colorado school districts had already been providing in-person classroom instruction to elementary school students, the older kids are finally getting their number called.

The Jefferson County School District, which regularly trades places with Denver Public Schools as the largest school district in Colorado, announced today that middle- and high school students are going back to the classroom:

We will return to full in-person learning for grades 6-12 in a phased approach beginning March 15 through April 5. At many of our schools, the ratio of students choosing the remote learning option compared to hybrid enables us to increase the numbers of students in classrooms.

Click here to read the full announcement from Jeffco Schools.

Today’s announcement comes on the heels of decisions in other large school districts, including Douglas County in the South Metro area and the Poudre School District in northern Colorado.

What say you, Polsters? Are we ready to be sending all students back to classrooms, or should we be waiting until the new school year in August? Cast your vote after the jump…

 

 

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Should Colorado students be returning to classrooms in March?
Should Colorado students be returning to classrooms in March?
Should Colorado students be returning to classrooms in March?

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19 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. kwtree says:

    It’s too early. None of the school age population has been vaccinated yet. Only about 25% of teachers have been vaccinated. Case #s are still high. 
    Ventilation in older buildings is still awful and transmission by ventilation is possible. I recently subbed in a temp classroom, self-contained HVAC, with 25 students in the room. Masks only go so far.
     

    Remote education is inferior to in-person for most students, but it still beats heck out of getting long term Covid effects or killing one’s grandparents. 

    • NOV GOP meltdown says:

      I have two kids in BVSD (K-5 and middle) who have had massive setbacks in their education due to this pandemic.  They are behind now, and they are regularly frustrated, detached, depressed and bored, sometimes all at the same time. It sucks.

      Tech issues are a bear too.  My teenage sons laptop died last week, so we bought him a new one, asked him if he liked it and he said yeah sure. All good.  Synchronous online learning began at 8AM this Tuesday, and my son is pulling his new laptop OUT OF THE BOX at 7:57 !  ARRRRGH ! Mostly our fault as parents for not checking, but frustrating as hell anyway.  Turns out this Dell model only blocked you from using anything other than Dell, so we had to get that fixed so he could log into the system. We lost two full days of learning due to that issue.

      Many of the teachers are being forced to help with technical issues on the spot. Most of them are not technically trained, so they are forced to learn to fix glitches on the fly and teach a cohesive, organized class all at the same time.  I hear the stress in my daughter's 5th grade teacher's voice.  Again, it sucks.

      There have been a few covid cases at both schools, but they have been identified and contact traced quickly, and then quarantined.

      Again, it sucks (did I mention it sucks enough ??) but we have to think about the long haul and the big picture, kwtree, so I agree with you.  Its too early. Dying to get back to normal is better than dying.  If we can just be disciplined for a bit longer we will be out of this a lot more quickly, because we don't ever want to do this again.

    • 2Jung2Die says:

      What kwtree said. 3 of my favorite people in the world recently went through COVID, and at least 2 of the 3 can be attributed to schools. Teachers and staff can get stuck in a building with a whole bunch of people, and no telling if the students or their parents or people in their circles believe COVID's a hoax so they don't take the right precautions. My 3 of my favorite people in the world got through their initial COVID infection, but who knows about possible long-hauler issues or chances of reinfection.

       

  2. Meiner49er says:

    The only reason big districts are talking about going back now is to make administration of CMAS tests easier on the administrators in these districts. If this were not an issue, the science of COVID cited by KWTREE would see these same administrators urging caution through the end of this year. Too soon, and going back for the wrong reasons.

  3. JohnInDenver says:

    There is a great deal of ambiguity in the research about COVID-19: the role of schools in its transmission is contested, and some research appears to support almost any position on the probability and severity of risks to students, teachers, staff, and the people in direct contact with them. 

    Nearly everyone recognizes alternative approaches to education tried in the districts creates some problems for students, limits parents’ options for work, and disrupts a wide variety of those who work with or sell to schools.

    No decision will satisfy everyone and any actual outcomes will undoubtedly be cherry picked to argue and trigger further discontent. So, I trust the school boards are making the best decisions they can while taking the situation in their own district into account.  I just hope they are also building policies that will provide a great deal of compassion to those who choose not to comply, too.

  4. MartinMark says:

    I understand this is a deeply difficult topic.  I have immense empathy for administrators making perhaps the toughest and most thankless lesser-of-two-evils choices of their careers, in a sea of chaos and contradictions, absent much government leadership, deep in partisan rancor and parental angst, and vastly inadequate information.  And I have several teachers among friends and family, and so I fully personally understand the risk they take being on the front line, not to mention the extreme hard work and emotional drain of all of this.  Everyone is working their a**es off, for a year running.

    My district did it pretty well.  Started at home this year, gained competence delivering remote learning, while waiting out the summer infection spike and letting early-adopters explore the bleeding edge of data-gathering, then switched their bias towards in-school learning in late fall, built around an active unapologetic contact tracing and quarantine program.  They invested in ventilation, they planned their protocols intensively.  They have a separate remote track for students and teachers who want to opt out.  This in a liberal-leaning region that has spent much its time on the upper end of the color scale, which has provided most residents personal familiarity with people who have suffered from the disease – in other words, the risk was not theoretical here.

    It's been ugly, and not without its downsides.  For a while it seemed like the kids were back home more often than they were in class.  Teacher turnover is up, students moving around schools is up, burnout is raging.   But we are in decidedly lesser-of-evils territory here.  Despite this, it has worked more or less as intended.  There is a general sense that the infections were not worsened to a meaningful or at least measurable extent by being in school.  Any infections or even close exposures were stopped in their tracks by quarantines.  Most reported child-led spreads were believed to be originating in out-of-school gatherings.  And there is a clear sense that the vast majority of parents and students prefer being in-school by a wide margin.  We've tasted remote learning – done as well as it can reasonably be done in the fall and during quarantines – and we prefer the in-school version, even with rolling quarantines.  (FWIW, quarantines have fallen off sharply since the New Year.)

    So I am a bit shocked and surprised to hear of districts that haven't even budged yet.

    I understand that some districts have not or cannot invest in ventilation. I understand some district leadership is dysfunctional, and/or has lost the faith of its staffs.  I understand some districts have a legacy of distrust between staff and management, or between Boards and elected government officials. I understand areas with strong unions have an added challenge (this does not mean I am anti-union).

    I support each district waiting until the time was right for their particular set of circumstances.  But the time has come, and has past, for everyone.  It is time to get kids in school.  The mental health impact on students and  parents of extended remote learning is too large,  The unfairness of remote learning to working parents and the poor is immense.  The lost educational growth is highly troubling.

    Upper middle class professionals with flexible workdays, good internet access, and safe & suitable work-spaces at home need to step out of their bubble and look around.  As a liberal-minded person myself, I believe the excuses are running out.  It is in fact getting a little embarrassing (not to mention the political optics have become awful).  I cannot articulate a defense for continued delay at this point. If districts need resources, the government ought to provide them; it's a drop in the economic bucket.  Opt-out tracks should be created, and it must also be accepted that some staff will quit, so they should be provided a reasonably soft landing.

    As I said above, I know many educators closely and intimately, to a one, they work hard, and above all; their priority is what's best for their students.  Aside a few with particular anxiety around the virus or health vulnerability, to a one they want to be in school with their kids.  So whatever is standing in the way should be resolved immediately as best as possible, and get on with life and educating children.

    I understand that after pushing so long and so hard to get half the nation to accept the magnitude of the pandemic, and fighting for even conventional public health responses, perhaps the pushing has become a reflex.  I understand that some school districts in more "partisanly" conservative areas have used their in-school policies as a sort of taunt towards the left, but we must resist letting that induce a reflexive defiance on our part.  I understand that after a year of isolation and anxiety, it is intimidating to take a first step back out, particularly when the virus is still an active and dangerous threat.

    But it is time to take that step.  It's time to get kids back in school.

    • 2Jung2Die says:

      Lots of good info here, but must quibble with 2 words – "It's time." Colorado's still at less than 10% of its entire population vaccinated with 2 doses. Kids can carry and spread the virus, which can still lead to death or other very bad health consequences. From the NYT on Jan. 29:

      No one knows how many educators have died from Covid-19. Our colleague Dan Levin reports that the American Federation of Teachers, one of the nation’s largest teachers’ unions, knows of at least 530.

      I hope it will be time to get kids back in school soon or at some point, but I'm not convinced that the point is now. I get the tendency people may have to look at broad safety and survival statistics, but COVID recently got a lot more frightening and personal for me.

      • MartinMark says:

        Perhaps that word choice is a little preachy or overdramatic.  But I do firmly believe it is time.

        We should absolutely get shots in teacher arms as soon as possible (bear in mind the vaccine refusal rate is quite high). But other sectors, like retail workers, have been "all in" since the beginning.  I believe that if restaurants and stores are open, schools should be open too.

        Has opening schools increased the number of deaths?  Perhaps.  But not opening schools has a massive social and health cost as well.  I know the "driving is dangerous" analogy is over-used, but it is true.  At some point, people need to leave their homes and drive.

        I understand some people have personal equations that increase their risk calculation, just like there are those people in retail, health care, etc. as well.  School opening may lead to some career changes, at least temporarily.   Our district allows teachers to volunteer to teach the remote track, that helps.

        It was scary for us when we started it, and every time we get a text from school we still jump out of our skins.  And we have carried a burden of responsibility on ourselves, since my wife is a teacher, so we practice extreme vigilance, because her exposure would have a major ripple effect on scores of children and their families.  Nevertheless, in hindsight completely worth it to get kids in school.

        • JohnInDenver says:

          MartinMark — thanks for the investment of time to explain your commitment to opening.  And thanks to your spouse for teaching and using vigilance to limit risks to the community. 

          Some harms are already in place.  The choice increasingly looks like opting between letting educational and social costs escalate for three more months of this traditional school year and start fresh in the fall when the risk of disease will be substantially lessened or diminishing the costs to students and their families by starting now and accept the (unknown) risks of the disease.  What is the trade-off between educational loss for one or two full classrooms of kids versus infection of a small subset of those pupils with unknown impacts, and an even smaller subset of those pupils having known heart or lung impairments?  How does a school measure the benefits of "ordinary" school when it may shift the balance for experienced teachers and lead to their resignations, with all the difficulties of filling the gaps they leave — with long-term substitutes this year and risks of hiring a new teacher for the coming year(s).

      • Diogenesdemar says:

        Plus 500,000 !

        Now us not the time to stop listening to the experts in epidemiology . . .

        U.S. health officials caution governors against easing restrictions, warning that a recent plunge in virus cases ‘may be stalling.’

        https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/26/world/cdc-warning-state-restrictions-covid.html

        Americans totally suck at patience . . .

        . . . and we suck even worse at inconvenience . . .

        . . . but we have been head and shoulders better than any country at speading and failing to properly address this pandemic.

        We have, as a society at large, never yet treated this pandemic as the deadly serious medical problem that it is. And, that is the biggest reason our kids aren’t back in school yet! (. . . and probably still shouldn’t be . . .)

    • kwtree says:

      MM, what “vaccine refusal” among teachers? Are you f-in kidding me? Educators are reality and science-based people. We want to be vaccinated ASAP. 

      I’m at Kaiser right now, waiting to see if any side effects show from vax#1. JeffcoSD  shared all its staff emails with health providers, and they are vaccinating thousands of educators a day. Everyone here is professional and positive. Most of the vaxees are front line workers- health providers or educators. This is a much better scenario than a few weeks ago, when Jeffco announced it had 200 vaccine doses available at the Great Western Complex, and so many showed up wanting vaccines that they caused a giant traffic jam on I70. So, no vaccine reluctance among educators in evidence. Still, the best case scenario is that maybe 50% of ecucators, and no students, will have received at least one dose of vaccine by the time school is slated to re-open mid-March.It isn’t enough.

      There is a Facebook group of teachers, administrators, parents and community menbers: Colorado Schools for Safe Openings: 14 days no new cases. https://www.facebook.com/groups/2065602670249970/?ref=share
      The name says it all. There will also be a car rally tomorrow at noon at Manual HS, encouraging DPS parents to “opt out” of the CMAS tests. There is proposed legislation,

      Sunday, Feb. 28th at Manual HS
      Direct action influences legislation (reference: Civil Rights acts of the 1960’s and the demonstrations/protests that preceded the legislation!!!)
      Opt out of CMAS, today.
      Surely, the Colorado State Legislators will be aware of the opt-out percentages as they discuss “HB21-1125, to Suspend State Assessments In 2020-21 School Year”
      Don’t you think the bill is more likely to pass if they see that a mass of parents have already opted out?

      Yes, remote education is  hurting students- particularly those learning English, who need in person conversation to advance. ELs are also highly at risk for getting and transmitting COVID- living in multigenerational households, working in dangerous essential worker jobs without health insurance or benefits, etc. The risk to the health of eventhese needy students’ livs and families is worse than the benefits of in-person education, in my opinion.

      Special education is another example. Most SPED classes were in-person during even the most restrictive phases of the pansdemic, and I covered a few of them. The last one I subbed for, two students repeatedly took off their masks, ( one bragging that his dad said nobody needed to mask),  and one of the paras went home with shortness of breath. I stopped covering SPED classes.

      I fail to see why we should all rush into schools just so that the test companies and consultants can continue to make billions by testing in Spring…as the 49er stated earlier.  Any test  results we get won’t be valid, what with high absentee and opt-out rates. . Test scores will go down this year. I’ll give them that prediction for free. In spite of the popularity of the “factory model” in education, standardized test results are a  piss poor measure of how well we prepare students to be citizens in a democracy. Yes, I’m an old-school Dewey constructivist, and proud of it. 

      No kids have to be infected or bring home the virus to their families to prove ( by test scores) that this was a terrible year in education. 

      • MartinMark says:

        I have seen a fair number of media stories, and heard several local anecdotes, that place vaccine uptake at a comparatively low rate among people who aren't senior citizens. (i.e. between a third and half decline)   Including among health care workers, which is a much larger and more diverse group than what first comes to mind when we think about doctors and nurses.  I'm pretty sure the overall rate among eligible people is lower than you seem to believe.  Sure, there are more people who want shots that there are shots to give at the moment, but it can still also be true at the same time that many people who are given the chance are saying no thanks.

        As for testing, I am not very familiar with the politics there.  But I am not sure it's the sole driver behind trying to get schools open.  Personally, I'd be happy to see the test dropped this year either way.

        • Voyageur says:

          For the reasons kwtree outlined, chiefly high numbers of opt outs, tests would not provide solid comparative ratings anyway.  So why waste precious time on them?

        • kwtree says:

          WSJ cited NEA study showing 84% of teachers wanting to bevaccinated ASAP. Granted, that’s a study of union members, so probably 60% of any given district’s school faculty. Public charter schools are much less unionized ( and tend to exploit teachers much more). Non-union teachers take the same risks and almost all want to be vaccinated, in my anecdotal experience subbing and talking with teachers all over my district. They are tired of being quarantined every time a feckless student exposes them. And kids, being kids,  generally don’t give a feck. 
           

          For health care workers, I didn’t find any recent studies of vaccine hesitancy- but in late 2020, when the world first found out we would soon have effective COVID vaccines, only 36% wanted to get jabbed right away, with 56% having a “wait and see” attitude. Only reasonable among folks who have seen medical mistakes up close. That fits with a December 56% acceptance rate. That’s probably higher now- if I’m correct, many hospitals required frontline workers to be inoculated. 
           

          Higher vax rates will make teachers and staff more comfortable with 100% in-person school. But we aren’t there yet, and not likely to be in time to administer the precious tests.

      • JohnInDenver says:

        KW — teachers are diverse.  WSJ article on teachers & re-opening cites:

        A new survey from the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, found 84% of members have either already received the vaccine, scheduled their appointments or planned to do so when it became available. Sixty-three percent of respondents said they would feel more willing to teach in person with the vaccine.

        At the same time, 11% of teachers said they didn’t want to get vaccinated and 5% were unsure. Among their reasons: the vaccine was too new, they were worried about the side effects and they mistrusted the government. The survey included 3,305 active members in grades K-12, as well as 117 higher education members.

        I don't hang around with lots and lots of teachers or those who retired … but in early October, a couple I thought were sensible said they would be voting for Trump.  It COULD be they were trolling the group for some reason, but they appeared sincere.  I'm figuring some of the teachers who are Republican or libertarian politically could well be anti-vaxxers or have substantial COVID vaccine hesitancy.

        • kwtree says:

          JiD, thank you so much for citing the same WSJ article and NEA study I cited, in order to lecture  me that “teachers are  diverse”. As a 20+ year retired teacher, this was of course mind-blowing news to me. I had no idea. /sfrown
           

          FYI, 84% for getting vaccinated ASAP counts as an overwhelming pro-vaccine majority. Of course, there will be exceptions, as with any group. 
           

          But MartinMark claimed that the vaccine refusal rate among teachers was “quite high”. I don’t know which of WLJ’s brands you and MartinMark may be smoking, but any that got you only 11% buzzed would not make you “quite high”.cheeky

          The point is that 84% of unionized teachers, and IMHO about the same % of non-unionized teachers, want to be fully vaccinated before schools open up for 100% in-person learning. 
           

          It looks as though we will not get that wish,…. and more people will get deathly sick because of it. The drive is to open all schools, all grades, right now, and the only obvious reason would be to get those bodies in seats in time for in-person spring standardized testing. It’s foolish and callous.

          • Diogenesdemar says:

            The world is divided into one group: . . .

            . . . people who give lectures.  frown

          • Voyageur says:

            Fundamentally, kwtree is right.  

            Personally, I think we need to limp through this year as best we can and aim at a strong recovery program next fall.   Even Betsy DeVos understood the futility of mega-tests in the circumstances.

            When we resume, we require vaccination for all teachers and students.

            The ones who refuse should be limited to teaching or learning on-line.

            And we should put billions in catch-up programs — extended days, possibly mandatory summer school in 2022, to catch up with the lost year.

            If that adds another trillion or two to the damn debt, so be it.

            And in the rush to catch up, don’t neglect the arts.

            Finally, while the emergency lasts, the designated hitter rule should be indefinitely suspended!

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