Denver Public Schools reopening: In-person learning pushed to mid-October

Denver Public Schools is again delaying the start of in-person classes and extending remote learning for most students through at least mid-October, the district announced Wednesday.

Most of the more than 93,000 students who attend schools in Colorado’s largest district will take classes virtually through at least Oct. 16 in yet another coronavirus-spurred change to the school format as the fall semester looms closer.

After previously committing to full-time, in-person instruction, DPS announced in mid-July it would start the school year remotely in hopes of welcoming students back to their classrooms after Labor Day.

The extension of remote learning through the first quarter of the school year comes after considering Denver’s positivity rate for COVID-19 cases as well as the increased notion that the district will have to leverage remote learning at some point during the 2020-2021 school year, Superintendent Susana Cordova wrote in a letter to school leaders Wednesday obtained by The Denver Post.

“Families don’t feel safe, and the pandemic is disproportionately impacting communities of color. It is critical that we partner with public-health agencies to monitor and reduce risks for all students, but most critically for the students and families most impacted by COVID-19,” Cordova wrote. “This will give us the runway to ensure we have implemented the improvements in remote learning, based on what we learned from the spring, and fine tune them now.”

One exception, Cordova noted, is for students who are a high priority for in-person learning. The district is working toward bringing back small groups of those students as soon as Sept. 8, and considering bringing early childhood education and other high-priority students back first. DPS was not planning to offer ECE classes until students returned to school.

Board of Education member Tay Anderson has previously advocated for pushing back the start of in-person classes to allow for more planning time for students and staff, as well as track the trajectory of COVID-19 cases in the Denver area.

The Denver Classroom Teacher Association voiced support for the decision Wednesday, saying the teachers union appreciates that the district and Board of Education listened to staff concerns.

“We need to prioritize people’s lives and focus on quality instruction, instead of scrambling to open before the community and the schools are ready,” union president Tiffany Choi said in a statement. “Extending remote learning allows more time to collaborate around meticulous plans for in-person reopenings.”

Despite the uncertainty about when students might return to school facilities, the district has asked families to enroll in either in-person or virtual education programs. Enrollment opened Monday and is an ongoing process, Cordova has previously said.

Enrollment in the virtual program is non-binding, she reiterated in the letter to principals, adding families can change their decision well into the fall semester.

On July 21, DPS unveiled new details about its virtual education program, saying the goal is to make virtual classrooms as similar to in-person ones as possible. Most classes will be held live so students will have specific times to speak directly with their teachers and classmates. Students in the virtual program will also typically be assigned to teachers from their schools, though in some cases they’ll be fitted with a teacher in a different school, depending on class size and staffing availability.

It’s unclear how closely the in-person option with a remote start might mirror those plans.

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