Douglas County School District students are likely going to finish the fall semester in a remote learning format, as the district struggles to keep schools open because of surging COVID-19 cases and widespread student and staff quarantines.
Nine schools in the district, including four high schools, are currently closed with students learning online, interim Superintendent Corey Wise told the board of education Tuesday night. That includes two high schools that shut down this week because of quarantine-related staffing issues.
On Wednesday, the district said families should prepare for a likely transition to remote learning Nov. 30 through winter break, but stopped short of saying it will definitely happen. Wise said he doesn’t expect case trends to improve, especially after families potentially travel to celebrate the holiday. Under his proposed plan, students and staff would return to in-person learning in January.
Wise said both school staff and families would need about five days to transition from in-person to at-home learning, so a decision is likely to come by Friday. There’s only one full week of classes left before the district closes for Thanksgiving break on Nov. 23.
So far, the district’s approach has been to move students to remote education on a school-by-school basis. But because community spread is so rampant, Dougco’s nursing staff, which manages contact tracing, and its cleaning crews are “at a tipping point” because of increased workload and decreased personnel, Wise said. There also are not enough substitute teachers to cover all those who have been quarantined, he said.
“Can we continue to work with individual schools?” Wise said. “Unfortunately, right now, I don’t think we can.”
There are 477 active cases of COVID-19 within the district, 137 of which have been reported since Nov. 4, according to Douglas schools’ newly launched dashboard. More than 4,300 people are currently quarantined.
Wise said Dougco has more elementary level teachers who have contracted COVID-19 than high school educators, interesting because because children are said not to transmit the virus as well or get as sick, as often.
Douglas has hosted some form of in-person learning since the semester began. Elementary students currently attend full-time, in-person classes, while middle and high school students attend in person a couple days a week on a hybrid schedule.
Numerous other metro-area district that have transitioned online in light of the recent COVID-19 surge, including Cherry Creek School District, Aurora Public Schools, Sheridan School District No. 2, Westminster Public Schools, Adams County School District 14 and Adams 12 Five Star Schools. Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest district, also moved most grades to remote learning.
Jeffco Public Schools, the state’s second-largest district, is still predominantly conducting in-person instruction.
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