AURORA | The Aurora Public Schools board voted unanimously to suspend in-person learning for all grade levels through at least Nov. 20 during an emotional meeting Thursday evening.
The district was placed on “watch status” shortly after elementary and middle school students returned to the classroom when its internal model did not rise to the level indicating that in-person school was safe. High school students, slated to return to classrooms Tuesday, were delayed through Nov. 13 on Monday.
Now all students will be remote for at least another month, with the next decision on the district’s course of action set for Nov. 9. 1-8th grade students will return to remote learning on Monday.
Kindergarten and preschool students will continue going to school in person along with small groups of older students, including some students with disabilities and students learning English.
The change came after COVID-19 cases in Adams and Arapahoe County spiked, exceeding the 5% positivity rate threshold. The Tri-County Health Department has put in place new mitigation measures that health officials hope will reverse the trend.
Board members agonized over the decision during the meeting, and acknowledged that each choice would have negative effects.
“We have nothing but bad options in front of us,” APS Superintendent Rico Munn said at the beginning of the meeting.
Munn presented the board with three options: Having K-8th graders continue in-person learning under a “watch status” until Nov. 5, returning to the same remote learning status as the first quarter of the school year or having elementary students continue in-person learning with middle and high school remote.
Munn said his personal recommendation, which was overruled, was to go with the first option.
“I firmly believe our kids are happier, healthier and safer when they are in person,” he said.
The board disliked the idea of having different grades in different models, and several board members expressed the feeling that continuing the watch status through Nov. 5 would simply be delaying the inevitable.
“I don’t know that waiting another two weeks is truly beneficial,” director Vicki Reinhard said.
Board member Kevin Cox asked Munn whether he thought the district would be able to sustain in-person learning until then.
If the region’s current COVID-19 trajectory continues, Munn said he did not think it would be able to. However, he expressed hope that the mitigation measures would work, though he said it would take several more days to have data on their effects.
Ultimately, all of the board members leaned toward having all students return to remote learning. Several remarked on the impact it will have on their own children, with director Marques Ivey noting that his daughter wasn’t able to start her senior year in person.
“There’s no way to be happy about any decision that we make,” board president Kyla Armstrong-Romero said.
Armstrong-Romero said that she would apologize for any decision the board made, because she knows that either option would have consequences for teachers and families.
Before the vote, Munn said that he respected the board’s view but stressed that he does believe that the district’s protocols make in-person learning for students and staff, and would not have made his recommendation if he did not.
“It is my firm belief that we do have safe and healthy environments and we can maintain that,” he said.
The district will now have to decide whether staff members will continue to work in buildings or will return to remote work.
Aurora Education Association president Bruce Wilcox told the Sentinel that it made sense to return staff to buildings when they were preparing for students, but if that isn’t the case teachers shouldn’t be required to come in.
“All we’re doing is increasing the potential of exposure,” he said.