Cherry Creek chief says virus data will drive decision to open and close schools

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The charts from Tri-County Health represent metrics Cherry Creek schools officials will use to determine when schools will and won’t permit students and staff to meet at schools.

AURORA | Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Scott Siegfried said Wednesday he will base a decision next week to reopen schools or keep kids at home upon COVID-19 metrics tallied by the Tri-County Health Department. 

Siegfried spoke in a streamed address to the Cherry Creek community, where he emphasized that any decision to reopen schools during a pandemic will be based upon local data and not the decisions of other school districts. 

“It’s crystal clear: public education is essential, teachers are essential workers. And nothing that we do can be replicated,” Siegfried said. He added that, when mulling whether to reopen or keep schools closed, “I know I can’t make everybody happy. And I know I won’t.”

Aurora Public Schools reversed course last week at the behest of its school board and is now planning to begin the school year on August 18 with kids at home. That leaves the possibility that Cherry Creek students would start school in-person, while APS students have to stay home. 

Denver Public Schools officials said Wednesday that district won’t plan for in-person schooling until at least mid-October.

Siegfried said Wednesday the district created a scorecard of COVID-19 data that will provide the basis for his reopening or closure decisions. He said the decision-making process gained approval from Dr. John Douglas, Tri-County Health’s executive director. 

The scorecard is composed of four key metrics for Arapahoe County:  daily new cases, the rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations, the 14-day incidence rate and the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests.

The district has essentially defined good, medium and poor categories in these four metrics. A good metric earns two points, a medium earns one point and a poor metric earns zero points. The district scored a good incidence rate, for example, as below 50, while a poor rate is more than 100 and a medium rate is between the two. 

If the scorecard drops below 4 points for a sustained time period, families can expect their student to land back at home between one and two weeks. 

As an example, Siegfried scored the data on July 28, which added to 4 points. 

“So, at this example, if the decision was made today, we would start school in-person,” he said.

Siegfried cautioned that he doesn’t know what will happen in the next week, but he’ll announce Aug. 6 whether to reopen schools based upon this scorecard. 

Kasey Ellis, president of the Cherry Creek Education Association teacher union, said teachers support Siegfried incorporating data metrics into any decision.

“There’s no other district in the state that has put out such specific metrics for what will be remote and what will be in-person,” Ellis said. She emphasized that teachers have been at the table with district planners since the spring and will be watching data trends closely.

The superintendent, who has candidly described the daunting challenge of running a 55,000-student school system during an unprecedented pandemic, also said the scorecard will determine when school starts. 

If the 2020-2021 year starts with students at home, classes will start on Aug. 17. If schools reopen, the 17th will begin a “phase-in” week especially for new students to get their bearings. Classes would officially begin on Aug. 24. 

Siegfried also laid out some more details of what life might look like in Cherry Creek schools.

Students in all grade levels without pertinent medical conditions will be required to wear a mask, regardless of public health authority mandates. Siegfried said that educators will handle the requirement gently for young children. But if a student repeatedly refuses to wear a mask, that student will be transferred out of the school to learn back at home.

This story was updated with a comment from the Cherry Creek Education Association.