AURORA | The Aurora Public Schools board directed its superintendent to put together a plan for in-person learning next semester at its Tuesday night meeting, joining other districts across the region in planning to bring students back to the classroom in the new year.
The district was remote-only for most of the first semester, bringing students into the classrooms for a brief window of time in October before the board voted to send them back to online learning through the end of the semester after COVID-19 cases rose in the community.
At its last board meeting, Superintendent Rico Munn said that he would draw on data from the district’s decision matrix to determine whether in-person learning would be possible in January. But at Tuesday’s meeting, the board authorized Munn to pursue in-person learning and did away with the decision matrix as a decision making tool.
Spring semester begins on Jan. 11, but the district will spend the first week remote to give more of a buffer from the holidays. After that, the district will plan to bring students back to school in a hybrid learning model.
That was a decision Aurora Education Association president Bruce Wilcox voiced support for at the board meeting, saying he did not feel that the 11th gave the district enough time to avoid a potential increase in cases after the holidays.
“We want to make sure that we don’t come back and have to immediately turn around and go back to remote,” he said.
Overall he voiced support for the decision, saying he understood that the district can minimize but not eliminate the risk of contracting COVID-19.
Munn told the Sentinel that the district will announce to families its plans to bring students back to the classroom next semester this Friday, but that the amount of information will depend on how much planning the district is able to get done in the next two days.
Munn participated in a news conference with other metro area superintendents Tuesday where the Metro Denver Partnership for Health shared findings about school safety from the fall semester.
The partnership, which includes the Tri-County Health Department, found that schools can operate safely even if there is a high degree of community transmission as long as they follow the appropriate protocols. However, once community incidence rates of COVID-19 reach 500 to 750 per 100,000 people, it becomes much more logistically challenging for schools to remain open.
In an interview with the Sentinel Munn said that there is no specific incidence rate number above which the district would halt in-person learning, but that it is a metric that will be closely watched.
Tri-County Health director Dr. John Douglas addressed the board and echoed much of the sentiments presented by the Metro Denver Partnership for Health. He said that he was cautiously optimistic about the way cases were trending in the county, and that incidence rates in Adams and Arapahoe County have decreased by 25% since the week before Thanksgiving. Christmas.
Incidence rates are still in the 800 range for both counties, well above the target of 500-750.
The neighboring Cherry Creek School District has announced plans to partner with COVIDCheck Colorado to offer free testing to district students beginning in January. At the board meeting, Munn said that he did not think APS would pursue student testing because with the hybrid model fewer students will be on campus at a time.
The APS board was very hesitant to send students back to the classroom for the fall semester, but on Tuesday members voiced tentative support for the plan.
“I feel that we owe it to our students to try it out,” director Nichelle Ortiz said.
Vicki Reinhard said that she felt it was important to get more feedback from building-level staff about the decision, and the board agreed to have a listening session on Jan. 12 and another session after in-person learning has started to hear from employees about how it is going.
Several board members voiced the sentiment that they believe in-person learning will be more successful now because they’ve had time to gather more data about how COVID-19 affects schools.
“The most important thing is that we’ve had time to learn,” director Kevin Cox said. “The end goal is to have our students in buildings.”