As the fall semester inches closer, Denver Public Schools leaders are rethinking and restructuring various aspects of the school day to accommodate what’s expected to be a very unusual academic year amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In a detailed plan of reopening procedures obtained by The Denver Post, the state’s largest district outlines ways in which operations will be different for the 2020-2021 school year, from busing and “cohort” schedules to sanitation requirements and quarantine scenarios.
It also offers a first glimpse of expectations for DPS’s new online education program.
DPS spokeswoman Winna Maclaren confirmed the document’s legitimacy Wednesday, but declined to comment on its content, saying it’s a draft plan that’s subject to change over the weekend. A finalized reopening plan is expected to be released on Monday.
On Wednesday, the district announced it is considering a one-week delay to the start of the school year as well as a phased approach of beginning classes online before gradually welcoming students back into their school buildings.
Here are some of the changes DPS leaders are weighing as they look toward the new school year.
Student and teacher cohorts
The district will divide students into what it’s calling “cohorts” to minimize the number of interactions they have with others throughout the day.
Elementary students should participate in no more than two cohorts, while secondary students should participate in no more than four cohorts, according to DPS’s guidance. That means secondary school students may be expected to take four classes at a time, which is fewer than usual. Cohorts appear to be groups of up to 30 students.
Singing and wind instruments will not be permitted and schools are expected to adjust music and other courses accordingly. Research shows activities like singing can greatly increase the spread of droplets and therefore the virus.
DPS also is exploring the possibility of shortening the length of the school day and having students complete some coursework on their own time at home or in after-school programs.
There are still many outstanding logistical questions surrounding transportation, but DPS is considering staggered student arrival times to adapt to reduced bus capacities due to social distancing. Only 24 students are allowed per bus, or one student per seat. One exception is if siblings are riding together; they may share a seat.
School buses will be reserved for the youngest and highest-need learners, DPS said, meaning middle and high schoolers “should expect little to no transportation.”
Those who do ride the bus are expected to undergo a health screening before being allowed to take a seat, though the plan offers no specifics of what that entails. A parent or guardian must remain at the bus stop to ensure their student passes the health screening, according to the plan. Masks are required while onboard.
Changes to the classroom
Classrooms are expected to operate at full capacity, though schools are encouraged to entertain the use of outdoor spaces to host classes. Students, teachers and staff are required to wear masks except while eating or during other designated outdoor “mask breaks,” DPS said.
The district expects everyone to adhere to six feet of physical distancing wherever possible; however, if it cannot be maintained, students and staff should implement other safety measures such as mask-wearing and hand-washing.
Schools will continue to serve breakfast and lunch, though students will be required to eat in their classrooms. High school campuses will remained closed, meaning students will be prohibited from leaving campus to eat lunch.
Schools should stagger recess and physical education to avoid mixing of cohorts. While students are allowed to use and share the playground, it’s worth noting that outdoor equipment will not be disinfected due to staff limitations, the plan said. Hand-washing after using playground and gym equipment is strongly encouraged.
No F grades
DPS may discourage teachers from giving high schoolers F grades. Instead, the district will recommend giving students an “incomplete,” which will have a neutral impact on GPAs. Students will then have one year to complete necessary coursework to improve their grade before an F is put on their transcript.
Child care for staff
Should the district need to implement a hybrid learning format due to increased spread of COVID-19 in the community, it will prioritize child care for children of school-based DPS staff, the document said.
DPS is considering offering district-sponsored COVID-19 testing, according to the document. It’s unclear who this may be available to, but the district expects to offer more details later in July.
Separately, each school is required to designate a COVID-19 coordinator to address cases should they pop up once schools reopen. The district is also forming a coronavirus response team to support coordinators and manage protocols when a case has been detected.
DPS outlined more than a dozen different quarantine scenarios should a member of the student body or staff become infected with COVID-19. Most require that the person who tests positive, as well as anyone in their cohort, quarantine for two weeks and move to remote learning.
Students also must quarantine if they have a parent or sibling who tests positive for the virus; teachers and administrators must follow the same rule if their child tests positive.
If more than four cases are confirmed within a school building, the entire school will shut down so the building can be deep-cleaned. After cleaning is finished, any students and staff that did not have direct contact with the people who tested positive may return for in-person learning.
Online education curriculum
DPS’s online curriculum is expected to be more structured than the remote learning many families experienced in the spring.
Education will be synchronous, meaning lessons will happen live at specific times, Superintendent Susana Cordova said Wednesday during a webinar, citing research that showed students were more engaged and had higher participation rates when classes happened in real time.
Those who choose online education are committed through at least December, though they will not lose an enrollment spot at their current school for when they decide to return to in-person learning. Teachers will not lose their mutual consent position if they work remotely, DPS said.
DPS also will provide meals to qualifying students enrolled in the virtual program.