The 2020-21 school year will be unlike any other, even as many Colorado districts plan to offer in-person learning. School officials have spent the summer planning for the challenges of holding class amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, from precautionary measures to remote learning to options to the day-to-day details, such as where children will eat lunch.
We sat down with Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Jason Glass, whose district is planning to begin the year with remote learning and then a hybrid model of in-person and online classes.
Jeffco starts school on Aug. 24 with two weeks of remote classes. Following Labor Day, on Sept. 8, elementary schools will open for in-person learning, while secondary schools will begin the hyrbid model.
Watch our full conversation with Glass:
And here's a transcript of our interview:
Q: What has been the biggest challenge for you this summer trying to figure out what you’re going to do in this great unknown?
A: I really think we really have two competing priorities - both of which are really important. One of those is the push to get schools open in some fashion and the push for that comes from academic concerns, social and mental health concerns for our students. We also have concerns around the economy and the workforce support for our families, so those are all compelling reasons to try and get school open, especially get some in person option open in some way.
And then we’ve got competing against that -- health concerns that our staff are rightfully concerned about their own health and we want to make sure we keep our students and our staff safe and we don’t allow the schools to become a vector by which the virus spreads in our community. Those are the two pressures we are working to find some middle ground or solution for. We want to get schools open but we also want to make sure we do it taking every prudent and safety step that we can.
Q: What do you tell parents who want their kids back from the start:
A: We are working toward that in person option. That is our goal and that’s what is in our plan right now. We’re taking that first two week period to do remote learning, but it’s also to do orientations with our kids and our staff to make sure they understand the virus mitigation strategies that we will be using. This should not be seen as that we are conceding that we cannot open schools in person. It really is a thoughtful process to make sure we do that right. The ultimate goal is to get schools open, to create that in person experience but we want to make sure that happens safely.
Q: What social distance guidelines will be in place when students return?
A: That will involve symptom screening and temperature checks when students and adults come in the building. It will involve requirements around mask wearing and social distancing to the greatest extent that we can while in the building. There will be changes to our ventilation systems. There will be changes to the way students move through the buildings -- requirements around hand washing and increased cleaning protocols. So there are these layers of different virus mitigation strategies that you use in addition to cohorting groups of students together, so you have smaller groups and then at the secondary level, we’re actually reducing the number of students that are in the building at any given time in our middle schools and high schools, so that we can achieve that social distancing element at that level.
Q: How is JeffCo approaching athletic activities?
A: Right now we have virus mitigation strategies that we’re using with our athletics and activities as well, so they’re doing temperature screenings, they’re doing social distancing to the extent possible where they can do social distancing, they have face coverings and we’re proceeding right now trying to restore as many of those services and activities and sports as we possibly can. I think as we look into the fall and what that may be like it’s really anyone’s guess and no one can speak with any real certainty about what’s going to happen with athletics and activities because we have to look at the conditions as they come.
Q: How are you planning for both short and long term?
A: I think we really have to look at the conditions in our community and pay attention to those. We have seen other international systems be successful at reopening schools and not creating a vector for the virus through doing that, but those are also countries that have done a really godo job at suppressing community transmission. It’s really going to be everybody’s responsibility if you want to help us get schools open. Everybody’s got to do their part and not allow themselves to be a vector for the virus. We do have a matrix where we will look at the conditions in Jefferson County and on the front range and move between all remote as we were this spring when we were in the stay at home order to where we are now which is sort of a cohorting and hybrid approach with layers of virus mitigation strategies.
Q: How does cohorting work and where will it be used?
A: At the elementary level, we have research from several large-scale studies now that tells us that the transmission of the virus.. Infection rates for children younger than 10 and the adverse effects for children younger than 10 is dramatically lower than it is for other age ranges, so at the elementary level that is why we’re putting forth this 100 percent in person option for families along with the remote option if the family wants that for whatever reason. Cohorting will be used there, so in that case you have a group of students that’s in one class -- they don’t mix with other students so what that creates is if you have someone that passes through all our other virus mitigation strategies, you have it contained to that one class and it doesn’t spread and cause an outbreak in the whole school.
At the secondary level, we again from that research know that kids over 10, roughly 10, tend to have infection rates and be able to spread the virus just like adults do. So we have to be more careful there, which is why we're creating that hybrid option at the secondary level where we’ll effectively be able to cut the number of students that are in our classrooms dramatically down. That will allow us to do social distancing, spread people out. We have looked at the data, looked at the science, looked at public health guidance and tried to put forth an in person plan that’s responsive to the latest scientific information available.
Q: How will your district adapt to changing conditions?
A: No school leader, no school district is able to find a perfect plan that solves all of our problems that everybody is going to agree with, so we’re all in this place of trying to balance the concerns around students, families and staff in trying to contain this virus. As communities come forward with plans and we keep working on these, we also have to be flexible and understand conditions can continue to change. Things may have to adapt and we’re going to need our communities, our parents to support our schools as we navigate through this.