AURORA | The Cherry Creek School District announced Thursday that students will return to school in-person during an unprecedented pandemic, beginning with a “phase-in” week on Aug. 17.
Superintendent Scott Siegfried announced the long-awaited decision in a letter to the Cherry Creek community.
“As we prepare to open, I am asking for all members of the Cherry Creek Schools community to do our part to help ensure that students can be in school,” Siegfried said in the letter. “Please help your students avoid meeting with large groups of friends, maintain appropriate social distancing and have them wear a mask in accordance with the state mandate – together, as a community, is the only way this will work.”
Aurora Public Schools has postponed reopening schools until at least October, and will offer virtual classes to students.
The district is planning to have elementary school students in class for five days a week beginning Aug. 24. Middle and high school students will physically go to school for only two days of the week starting then.
Beginning the week of Aug. 17, students who have chosen to return to schools can expect to be able to “get their bearings” on how in-person classes will work.
Cherry Creek is relying on a “cohort” model to keep students safe, in which kids will be grouped together, and interaction between groups will be limited to reduce the spread of the virus.
In grades 6-12, student bodies will be split in half to reduce viral spread. As long as schools are open, a student will go to class for only two days a week and learn remotely the other three days.
All students will also be physically distanced from each other “to the greatest extent possible.”
Carlye Holladay, vice president of the Cherry Creek Education Association teacher union, teaches English at Cherry Creek High School.
Holladay has seen the colossal preparations at district headquarters that began in the spring, and she’s feeling comfortable about returning to teach in her own classroom. Typically, about 30 students have made up one of Holladay’s classes. This year, she said between 13 and 15 students will sit in her class at a given time.
With about 40 seats in her classroom, she said staff will easily be able to sanitize chairs and desks between cohorts. Seats might be blocked off to create some social distancing between students.
However, she’s cognizant that other teachers might be contending with smaller classrooms and scarier situations than her own. She said, for many, there are still some unknowns.
“And I think some of those questions will get answered, but I also recognize that, for some people, it’s never going to feel safe enough,” Holladay said.
This summer, families already had to decide whether their student would learn in-person or online for the entire school year, depending on pandemic-induced classroom closures.
Holladay said about 20% of students and hundreds of teachers have opted to stay home for the entire school year.
The plan for a return to classrooms is one based on a COVID-19 condition scorecard, which Siegfried said last week would become the basis for the district’s decision.
“Over the past 10 days, Public Health Metrics show a sustained decrease in the number of COVID cases in Arapahoe County,” Siegfried wrote Thursday, adding, “If we see a sustained change in the wrong direction and it becomes unsafe to maintain In-Person learning, I will not hesitate to make the call to switch to full Remote learning.”
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 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.
Cherry Creek scored conditions a “6,” for Aug. 5, meaning schools could reopen.
In schools, all students will have to wear masks. Except for young children and students with special requirements, a student could eventually be transferred to online school for refusing to wear a mask.
This story was updated with a comment from the Cherry Creek Education Association.