GREENWOOD VILLAGE | The Cherry Creek School District plans to return to full, in-person learning for all grades two weeks after spring break.
At Monday night’s school board meeting, Superintendent Scott Siegfried provided his recommendation to the board for the fourth quarter of the school year. The district is currently in a hybrid model with cohorts of students rotating when they are on campus. About 10,000 students have opted to remain online throughout the school year.
From the beginning of the semester on Jan. 11 through March 8, 119 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, Siegfried said. Over 4,000 students and staff members have had to quarantine due to being in close contact with an infected individual, but only 17 people are known to have developed COVID while in quarantine. That demonstrates that the district’s overlapping safety strategies of cohorting, quarantining and mask wearing are working, he said.
District employees are currently in the process of being vaccinated, and Siegfried said that by April 5, over 90% of Cherry Creek staff will have had the opportunity to be vaccinated and will have had at least two weeks since their second shot. According to CDC guidelines, that means they are no longer required to quarantine after exposure to an infected person.
Because of that new protection, and because COVID-19 rates in the region are continuing to go down, Siegfried said the district will transition to full, in-person learning after spring break, which is March 15-19. The two weeks after spring break will be hybrid for middle and high school students (elementary students are already fully in-person).
Students and families still have the option to continue home-learning as schools fully reopen, according to school officials.
The two weeks will provide a buffer for a potential increase in transmission due to spring break travel, Siegfried said. He expects that more students will travel for spring break than traveled over the fall or winter.
The week of March 29-April 2 will be used for CMAS testing, which Siegfried said students need to take in school because taking it remotely would require collecting laptops that were distributed to student’s homes, which he doesn’t want to do.
After that, K-12 students will be fully in-person five days a week April 5 through the end of the school year on May 28. May will be dedicated to AP and IB testing for 10th-12th grade students, and they will have modified schedules during testing, Siegfried said. Seniors’ last day on campus will be May 15.
The goal of returning to full in-person isn’t to give students more work or “stress anybody out,” but to end school on a positive note and help them get used to being on campus before the next school year starts up in the fall, Siegfried said.
“It’s to bring kids in so they can re-normalize, re-socialize and find joy in school again,” he said.
The district will still require students to wear masks and will continue to practice targeted quarantining for everyone who is not vaccinated. However, since all students will be on campus at once, the ability to physically distance will be significantly limited.
Board members expressed support for Siegfried’s plan. However, the teachers and students who spoke during public comment were uniformly worried about the safety of a full return. The lack of physical distancing came up several times as a concern.
“There are many environments in which I go about my day-to-day learning which are not socially distanced,” said Christopher Custer, a junior at Smoky Hill High School. “To double the students in those hallways does not seem safe to me.”
Prairie Middle School teacher Shelley Stancer said she was concerned about how this could affect students of color, many of whom live in multigenerational homes with relatives who may not have been vaccinated yet, considering the racial disparities in Colorado’s vaccine rollout.
“The percent of our families that chose online this year speaks to their fear of in person,” she said. “We hear many times that few kids die of COVID, but we don’t often hear that according to the CDC 75% of the kids that have died of COVID are children of color.”
Board president Karen Fisher shared that at a March 2 special board meeting, the board voted to initially focus its search for the next superintendent on internal candidates. The board will being interviewing candidates in the next few weeks. Siegfried announced his plan to retire at the end of the school year in January, citing a need to spend more time with his family.
The board hired an outside consultant to survey community members about what they want in a superintendent, and found that a focus on career pathways, mental health and a commitment to racial and cultural equity were top priorities.
Board members also paid tribute to Overland High School Principal Aleshia Armour, whose celebration of life service was held Monday after her death at the end of February. Members became emotional discussing her impact on Cherry Creek, and vowed to carry on her legacy.
“She left an impact like no other on Cherry Creek School District,” said board member Janice McDonald. “And if she were here tonight, she would tell us there is still so much more work to be done.”
The next board meeting will be held 7 p.m. April 12.