Poudre, Thompson school districts will open with 100% remote learning amid COVID-19 concerns
Poudre School District will begin the 2020-21 school year 100% remote — the same way it ended the last school year — due to the continued COVID-19 pandemic.
The district announced plans for students to start the school year with 100% remote learning in an email sent to district families Tuesday. The announcement comes about one week after the district released a 30-page plan outlining a hybrid learning model for the first three weeks of the school year.
With the change, PSD students will learn remotely through at least the first quarter of the school year, which ends Oct. 16. The district will continually reevaluate public health conditions to determine when it is safe to reopen schools for in-person learning, the email stated.
Students will still start school on Aug. 24, the delayed reopening date announced by the district last week. An update with more information about how remote learning will work this fall is expected on Friday.
"It saddens us that we will not be able to be with our students in-person again, as we have hoped to be, but are excited for the strong connections that teachers, students, staff and families will forge this school year," Superintendent Sandra Smyser said in the email to families.
After meeting with officials from the Larimer County Department of Public Health and Environment on Tuesday, the district decided "it is unwise to open schools in our current environment," Smyser wrote.
Citing the county's guidance, Thompson School District also announced Tuesday it would move to remote learning for at least the first quarter of the year.
The district had previously planned an Aug. 31 reopening with half days for all students during Thompson's first week of school. Starting the second week of school, elementary school students would have had full days in-person and middle and high school students would have spent their mornings at school and their afternoons in remote learning.
"While the latest guidance from county professionals provides clarity for our community, we also understand that this decision is disappointing for many of our families," the district wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday evening. "Thompson School District is dedicated to offering a safe in-person educational option for our students and we will continue to work with health officials to help make that option a reality as soon as possible."
In both announcements, Larimer County Public Health Director Tom Gonzales shared the county's concern about delayed COVID-19 test results and how those delays would impact the county's ability to stop outbreaks at schools.
“These are not easy decisions and there is no perfect answer,” Gonzales said in the email to PSD families. “One of the biggest concerns we have in Larimer County and for Colorado is the delay in test results."
For contact tracing to be effective, COVID-19 test results need to be available within 2-3 days, Gonzales said, which is not happening in Larimer County or statewide.
"The way we prevent outbreaks in our schools is to test, trace and isolate," Gonzales said in both announcements. "With cases continuing to rise, counties across the state will struggle to conduct timely contact tracing with this delay in results."
The announcements from PSD and Thompson come after several Front Range districts — including Denver Public Schools and Jeffco Public Schools — announced their plans for fully remote learning for the first part of the 2020-21 school year.
On July 27, PSD shared plans for a hybrid learning model for the first three weeks of the school year, with students in school some days and learning remotely other days. Elementary students were also set to return to full in-person learning by the third week of school under the district's previous plan.
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PSD's initial plan had students split into A groups and B groups, with the groups alternating days they attend school in-person or remotely.
The district had prepared for four possible phases to begin the year:
- Phase 1: Schools are closed. Instruction is carried out remotely. This is how PSD ended the 2019-20 year after closing in March due to the spread of COVID-19.
- Phase 2: Limited in-person learning, with gatherings of 10 people or less. Most learning would be remote, but there could be limited in-person interaction in small groups.
- Phase 3: Hybrid model. Students are broken into "A" and "B" groups, with A in classrooms Monday and Wednesday and B in classrooms Tuesday and Thursday. Friday would be a day for at-home learning and teacher collaboration.
- Phase 4: All students in school all day. The district may limit classrooms to 20-25 people and would likely require health safety measures such as temperature checks, contact tracing and the use of personal protective equipment.
PSD's new plan for the beginning of the school year follow the district's plans under Phase 1, while the initial hybrid learning plan outlined last week fell under Phase 3. The district says it will have to be prepared to move between phases throughout the year as coronavirus conditions and public health recommendations change.
Poudre Education Association President John Robinson applauded the district’s tough decision to begin the school year online.
“I think it was the right move and a very hard decision,” Robinson said.
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Sady Swanson covers crime, courts, public safety and more throughout Northern Colorado. You can send your story ideas to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @sadyswan. Support our work and local journalism with a digital subscription at Coloradoan.com/subscribe.