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'This is completely uncharted': 7 questions for a Colorado superintendent about school restarting

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Posted at 12:29 PM, Jul 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-31 14:29:58-04

The 2020-21 school year is less than a month away for most Colorado districts, and we're talking with area superintendents about their plans for the upcoming semester — even as COVID-19 conditions force districts to adjust and adapt.

Marc Schaffer is the superintendent of the Thompson School District in Loveland. The district includes about 17,000 students and is planning to start the year with a hybrid model for secondary schools and in-person classes for elementary students. And, like other districts, there will be a fully remote option for students who choose to do that.

Q: What is Thompson School District’s plan for the start of the year?

Schaffer: It’s interesting because had we had this conversation 24 hours ago, I think I would have shared what our plan was going to be looking like. As of [Wednesday] evening, based on the guidance and support of our Larimer County Board of Health, we’re moving to a hybrid model for 6th through 12th grade, which means we will bring in students at 50% on an A/B rotation schedule at our secondary schools. Elementary will remain 100% fully in person.

That is one option for our families, what we’re calling a hybrid, in-person model. The other option for our families is a 100% virtual, or online experience. Parents will have until the first week of August to make a decision.

Q: How important is it to be nimble and adjust amid the COVID-19 pandemic?

Schaffer: It’s absolutely necessary. We rely on the guidance of our health partners here in Larimer County. We rely on science. All school districts I know throughout the metro area are struggling to make the best decisions for their students, for their staff and for their communities. As recommendations are made, we have to be agile in real time making the decisions that we feel will be in the best interests of the health and safety of our students and our staff.

Q: What do you tell the parent who wants their student back in school no matter what?

Schaffer: A lot of it is really providing information and really being transparent with our community, letting them know alongside of us why we’re making the decisions, allowing for input. We know we have to balance certainly the needs of our families and our communities with health and safety

Q: What metrics will you and other administrators be looking at throughout the year to make decisions?

Schaffer: We look at cases. We look at trends in cases. We look at hospitalizations. We look at number of patients in ICU and then the data is also disaggregated by age group. A lot of it is based on the trend of the county. Larimer County does look different than Arapahoe County and so we certainly are mindful of the data that is occurring throughout the state, but we’re most interested in what's happening in Larimer County.

Q: When students are back in school, what safety precautions will be taken?

Schaffer: Our district is requiring mask wearing of all students in all classrooms and all venues.

We have processes of cohorting students certainly at our elementary level limiting mixing of our cohorts of our classes, so that the students stay together as a group for the day. The arrangement of the classrooms, the movement within the building, rotating adults in the classroom versus rotating kids around the building. All of these are health and safety measures that we are taking.

Q: What can we expect for sports and other activities this year?

Schaffer: We are also following the guidance of [the Colorado High School Activities Association]. Yesterday’s announcement around certain sports that were approved - athletics and activities. It’s not just our athletics, but it’s our theater, our music programs, all of that — integral parts of the school day and the student experience. We’re awaiting guidance on what we are able to do, what we can do and what we can’t do.

Q: What else would you want parents to know about the upcoming school year?

Schaffer: This is completely uncharted and it’s really complex. It’s one of those situations that any decision I make will be met with those that are in agreement with and those that are not. But we use as our compass, here again, is what is in the best interest of our students and staff and community from a health and safety standpoint. We know that schools exist to educate students, not only from an academic standpoint, but also to provide that social and emotional support and we want to make sure we are doing an amazing job of doing that. We’re committed to that, but it’s hard. It’s hard with this, and there is a lot of unknown.