The start of the school year was pushed back a week to Aug. 31 by the Durango School District 9-R Board of Education after a robust, three-hour discussion about possibly delaying school even further and adopting strict social-distancing policies that go well beyond state recommendations.
The board voted 5-0 to accept the recommendation to open 9-R schools on Monday, Aug. 31, based on the existing Return to Learn plan that provides greater social distancing as students age and also offers an option of all-remote learning for families uncomfortable with classrooms that cannot offer 6-foot social distancing.
In addition, the board voted 5-0 to require all students in kindergarten through 12th grade to wear masks in class.
Previously, 9-R considered requiring that all students from fourth grade to 12th grade wear masks while strongly encouraging younger students to wear masks in class.
The board also plans to pass another resolution at its meeting Aug. 11 that would spell out details about its mask-wearing requirement.
Board member Erika Brown suggested requiring 6-foot social distancing for all in-person classes.
“If too many kids want in-person learning, we can’t guarantee social distancing,” she said.
However, Superintendent Dan Snowberger said the Return to Learn Plan was based on guidance from the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that doesn’t call for that amount of social distancing in classrooms and would require a radical rework of plans to reopen.
“If you’re not comfortable without a guarantee of a 6-foot social distance, we have a model for you, it’s called remote learning,” Snowberger said.
He said the amount of social distancing that would be provided for under the three different learning models Durango schools plan to offer will be added to information provided to families so parents could make a more informed decision about which model of learning to register their children for next year.
The three learning models that will be offered by 9-R are:
Remote learning with all classes held remotely, principally online with at-home work.Blended learning with students working at home three days a week and attending in-person classes two days a week.In-person learning, the traditional school model with students going to class five days a week.Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health, eased board members’ concerns about the inability of schools to offer 6-foot social distancing for all classes.
In formulating its recommendations to schools, Jollon said health officials took into consideration unique environments, especially school classrooms, where maintaining social distancing of 6 feet would be difficult, if not impossible.
While 6 feet provides the best protection, Jollon said the smaller distances offered in state guidance for schools combined with a requirement of face masks is acceptable at schools.
She said the key was to adhere to 6-foot distancing when at all possible during the rest of the day, and that, combined with adherence to guidance such as mask-wearing and frequent hand-washing, creates an environment where schools can meet with closer social-distancing than 6 feet.
“There are places where you’re not going to be able to offer 6 feet, but because you’re doing it everywhere else it will be safer in special situations where you can’t maintain it. If everyone is paddling in the same direction we should all be better off and it allows for some inconsistency,” Jollon said.
The delay of school offers four extra days for teachers to prepare for the new year, a breathing space especially important as teachers are dealing with a new computer system, its Learning, which will be used as 9-R’s learning management system.
Board member Kristin Smith said with the new computer system and only two days allocated for training on it, time would still be at a premium.
“I’m still not sure we have adequate time,” she said.
Board President Shere Byrd noted its Learning has been available since July for teachers to familiarize themselves with the software if they did it on their own time.
The district is also finalizing an agreement with Cedar Diagnostics to provide COVID-19 testing for all employees during their first week when they return to prepare for the school year.
“This sounds great to me,” Byrd said. “It should give our employees some confidence about the other employees they will be working with.”