Poudre School District to move to hybrid education for elementary students in October

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Poudre School District will move elementary students to a hybrid learning model beginning in October, thanks to improvements in coronavirus test result turnaround times, the district announced to families Tuesday night. 

The overall plan for slowly returning students to classrooms focuses on elementary students first, particularly K-2 students.

“Remote education continues to be most challenging for our youngest students,” PSD Superintendent Sandra Smyser said in Tuesday’s email to families. 

Beginning the week of Oct. 5, K-2 students will learn remotely three days a week and be at their neighborhood schools two days a week. That schedule will continue for two weeks, and beginning the week of Oct. 19, all K-5 students will be in a hybrid learning model, according to the district. 

Similar to the district’s initial hybrid learning plan shared with the community in July, students will be split into A and B groups, and attend school in-person on alternating days Monday through Thursday. All students will learn remote Fridays.  

“I believe it is important for us to return to in-person learning with a smaller number of students in our buildings so that we can monitor the impact of this transition on our students, families, staff and community,” Smyser said in Tuesday’s message. “This approach allows us to be as responsive as possible and to take the appropriate steps to respond should we see case outbreaks as a result.”

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The plan shared with families Tuesday has K-2 students back in school two weeks earlier than previously planned. In an Aug. 4 announcement, the district said all students would be learning remote through Oct. 16 — through the end of the first quarter of the school year — with the potential of some in-person learning resuming Oct. 19. 

The district is still targeting Oct. 19 to begin hybrid learning for middle and high school students. More information will be shared by the district on plans for secondary students the week of Sept. 28, Tuesday’s message said. 

Early Childhood Education will welcome back preschool students in person Oct. 5. Families should look for more detailed communications from their schools, the district-wide email said. 

This plan matches the district’s Phase 3 plan, which was shared with families earlier this summer as part of the district’s preparation for the start of the 2020-21 school year. The district has always intended on moving through the four phases of learning — from fully in-person, fully remote or a hybrid model — according to multiple messages from the district. 

Thompson School District previously announced plans to return students to classrooms full-time in waves beginning the week of Sept. 28 with kindergartners and first-grade students. The following week, K-2 students would resume in-person learning, then K-3 would be in-person, and by the week of Oct. 19 all students in grades K-5 would be in-person, as well as preschool. 

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Students returning to school will be required to wear face coverings, and families are expected to check their students for coronavirus symptoms daily. 

If someone in a school building tests positive for COVID-19, the classrooms or schools will receive quarantine instructions and move to fully remote learning, Tuesday’s message said. 

Smyser noted slow COVID-19 test result turnaround times as a main reason for beginning the school year remote. Quick turnaround on test results is key to effective contact tracing, which helps identify those who were exposed and prevents outbreaks. 

On Aug. 4, When PSD announced the school year would begin remotely, only 27.1% of test results were returned in two days or less, Smyser said in Tuesday’s announcement. As of Sept. 5, 68.1% of test results came back in two days or less. The Larimer County health department expects that number to continue to improve, Smyser said. 

Smyser said the district has remained in close communication with the Larimer County Department of Public Health and Environment, and paid close attention to the county’s COVID-19 case data — specifically the cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period.

As of Tuesday night, the county reported 68 cases per 100,000 people over the last 14 days, which falls under the medium risk category, according to the county’s website. Overall, the county’s data dashboard placed Larimer County at the medium risk level as of Tuesday night. 

“Like you, I want this to be over, but this pandemic is not over yet,” Smyser said in a message to district families Tuesday night. “More than anything you and your kids probably want consistency amid the chaos so that you can plan and make this situation work for your family. Even though we can’t give you all the consistency you crave, we can continue to give you support. That will never change.”

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Sady Swanson covers crime, courts, public safety and more throughout Northern Colorado. You can send your story ideas to her at sswanson@coloradoan.com or on Twitter at @sadyswan. Support our work and local journalism with a digital subscription at Coloradoan.com/subscribe.