In February, all Poudre School District students will be learning in person, with the intent to keep it that way for the rest of the school year, the district told families Wednesday.
The district will gradually welcome back all students for in-person learning over the next few weeks, expanding on the return-to-learning plan the district shared with families in mid-December.
Following the district’s previously announced plan, K-5 students will continue with remote learning through Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and start learning in-person full-time Jan. 19.
Middle school students will continue learning remotely until after Martin Luther King Jr. Day and move into hybrid learning on Jan. 19, at which time students will learn in person twice a week and remotely the other three days. Two weeks later, on Feb. 1, middle schools will reopen for full in-person learning.
High school students will remain in full remote learning until Jan. 25, when they will shift into hybrid learning for two weeks. On Feb. 8, high schools will join the rest of PSD in returning to full in-person learning.
Pre-K students started the semester in hybrid learning and will shift to full in-person learning Jan. 19.
All K-12 students started the semester Jan. 5 remotely.
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The district told families the decision was made to return to in-person learning after reviewing Larimer County and district-specific COVID-19 data from the fall, which suggested minimal virus spread in schools and especially those ages 5 to 14.
“Students grow most when they are with their teachers and classmates, and they deserve nothing less than the best chance at success, academically and social-emotionally,” the district announcement said.
When COVID-19 cases arise, the district plans to make targeted shifts to remote learning for specific classes or schools, and the sizes of the shifts will likely depend on the grade level. While elementary students are generally grouped into smaller classrooms, secondary students have several classes in a day and are exposed to more people, which will likely lead to larger groups of secondary students needing to shift to remote learning when outbreaks occur, the district’s message to families read.
District staff will also consult with principals about the need to temporarily close schools when the percent positivity rate in a school is 1% or higher, according to the district’s announcement.
“Although there will be shifts to remote education, we are opening our schools for in-person learning with the intent of keeping them open for the remainder of the year,” the district announcement read. “We are pointing forward in 2021.”
High schools were the most impacted by coronavirus outbreaks in the fall, leading to a school-wide shift to remote learning at Fossil Ridge High School shortly before the entire district moved online learning for the remainder of 2020.
Students and staff will still be asked to follow health and safety protocols when returning to in-person learning, which includes mask wearing, increased hand washing and maintaining physical distance from others whenever possible.
All staff will be required to conduct a COVID-19 screening on the district’s app before entering any school building. Families are asked to check their students for COVID-19 symptoms daily before sending them to school and to keep them home if they have a fever of more than 100.4 degrees or are showing other symptoms, according to the district website.
While school staff has been moved up in the priority list for receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, spokesperson Madeline Noblett said the vaccine is not a factor in the district’s decision to begin shifting back to in-person learning.
In a news conference Wednesday, executive director of the state health department, Jill Hunsaker Ryan, said Colorado teachers will likely start getting their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in early March.
Teachers make up part of the estimated 628,000-strong group of essential Colorado workers included in Phase 1B of the state’s vaccine distribution plan, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said during the news conference.
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They will be one of the next groups in line for the vaccine behind Coloradoans 70 years old and older — a group the state aims to distribute vaccines to by Feb. 28, according to Polis. The state hopes to complete its first phase of vaccine distribution — which includes frontline health care workers, nursing center residents and staff — by Jan. 15, Polis added.
When school staff are offered vaccines, Poudre School District will not make them mandatory, but Noblett said they are exploring ways to encourage employees to get the vaccine.
Polis also announced Wednesday that Colorado will also be one of three states taking part in a program to provide public and private schools with rapid, at-home BinazNOW COVID-19 tests — offering up to a million tests per month to schools that apply to the program through June.
The state will continue to deliver KN95 masks, and will start delivering surgical masks, to teachers and school staff through the end of this school year. Since August, Polis said Colorado has provided its schools with 2.4 million KN95 masks.
Polis also touted the state’s roadmap to in-person learning Tuesday. The roadmap, which prioritizes COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, mask wearing and symptom screening at schools, was rolled out last month in an effort to stem the spread of the virus in the state’s schools.
“When we do all these things right, schools are one of the safest work environments for teachers and students,” Polis said.
Editor’s note: This story has a correction. Middle school students will resume in-person learning Feb. 1. That date was incorrect in a previous version of this story.
Coloradoan reporter Erin Udell contributed to this report.
Sady Swanson covers public safety, K-12 education and more throughout Northern Colorado. You can send your story ideas to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @sadyswan. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.