Important Update about Returning to School in January
Dear Cherry Creek Schools Community,
December 15, 2020
I want to update you with our plans for returning to school in January and share information about some important changes we are making to ensure success for all.
My goal is to return in-person learners to the classroom starting second semester and throughout the remainder of the year, and we will offer additional health and safety strategies to support our successful return. Even with these strategies, however, there are limits to what is operationally possible – the spread of the virus in our community must be kept under control.
Here is a summary of the major announcements included in this letter:
- Our plan is for all In-Person learners to return to school in January following a phased-in timeline that is described in detail below. This is dependent upon our ability as a community to achieve and maintain a lower virus incidence rate.
- Middle and high school students will follow the revised Hybrid model that was communicated to families by principals earlier this month, which provides more instructional time with teachers.
- Online students enrolled in the K-5 Online program and Cherry Creek Elevation will continue following the same schedule.
I believe it is critical for students to have the opportunity to be in school with their teachers to the greatest extent safely possible. Cherry Creek Schools was the first large school district in the Denver area to open in August for In-Person learning, and we safely kept schools open for 12 weeks until community spread became so great that staffing became impossible. Cherry Creek Schools is committed to reopening schools in January for In-Person learning with several new operating protocols that will allow us to safely and effectively keep schools open.
COVID Impact – Virus Rarely Spreads in Schools
In Cherry Creek Schools, we have been data-driven in our decision-making regarding our In-person, Hybrid, or Remote learning schedule during the pandemic. We were the first district in Colorado to develop a science-based COVID Tracker that incorporated six metrics used to decide whether schools could safely operate In-Person learning. We have collected data since the start of school and analyzed the impact of COVID on schools during first semester.
Based on our data, one thing is clear:
- Schools do not meaningfully contribute to the spread of COVID due to district-wide implementation of multiple overlapping safety strategies.
State and national health experts have recommended that students return to In-Person learning even with high rates of COVID in the community because COVID rarely spread in schools. We also know from our data and experience, that when COVID rates reach a certain threshold – over 500 COVID cases per 100,000 people –it becomes increasingly difficult to operate schools due to staffing concerns and high quarantine numbers.
New COVID Protocols to Allow Schools to Stay Open
We worked with our Teachers’ Association and a coalition of school districts in the Metro Denver area to develop new protocols that address obstacles to In-Person learning. The following new protocols will be implemented starting in January:
- Schools will have the ability to do targeted quarantines at all levels, including middle and high school.
- Additionally, in alignment with updated CDC guidance, students and staff will have the ability to test out of quarantine on day seven. This strategy will allow students and staff to safely return to class sooner and will lessen the impact on the ability to keep schools open.
- Cherry Creek School District students and staff will have access to no-cost COVID swab or saliva tests through our partnership with COVIDCheck Colorado.
- Students and staff at elementary school sites will have access to regular no-cost saliva COVID testing to allow for early identification of COVID-positive children and adults who could also be asymptomatic, creating a safer, more operationally feasible environment.
- Secondary students will be able to access no-cost COVID testing at either of our drive-up facilities. Tests can be scheduled through your school nurse.
- No-cost testing will be available for students and staff to test out of quarantine in alignment with new CDC guidelines. With a test on day 5 or after, students and staff can test out of quarantine as early as day 7 with a negative test and no symptoms.
- These tests will be offered on a regular basis through our partnership with COVIDCheck Colorado. Testing is not mandatory and will not be performed without parental permission, but it is strongly encouraged as a critical safety strategy.
- We strongly advocate for educators to be prioritized in the vaccination schedule after healthcare workers, first responders and those who are at highest risk. Schools not only prepare students for the future, but also serve as a foundational aspect of the economy by supporting working parents. Once our educators have the opportunity to receive a vaccination, the impact of the virus will be minimized as a measure for determining whether schools will be open.
- While school districts appreciate the support provided by the state to this point, K-12 schools in Colorado were some of the most underfunded in the nation even before COVID. With budget reductions due to the pandemic, school budgets are stretched incredibly thin. Without a significant infusion of new state resources, our ability to meet the needs of students coming out of the pandemic and into the future will be incredibly difficult. We call on our lawmakers to direct significant new funding to K-12 schools and to eliminate all state funding reductions that have been passed onto schools over the past decade.
We need help from the community to lower COVID numbers
We continue to see very high levels of COVID in our community, with incidence rates in Arapahoe County at over 819 cases per 100,000 people. We also know from this year that when we follow public health guidelines we can drive those numbers down. It becomes easier for us to implement our plans for reopening schools in January if the community helps lower the incidence rate to 500 cases per 100,000 people or lower.
While we are committed to reopening schools for In-Person learning with these new protocols, if COVID becomes too out-of-control in the community, I may have to close schools and restart Remote learning. When making decisions about school, I will be looking at the Arapahoe County incidence rate as well as the trend or direction that COVID infections are moving. As an example, today at an incidence rate of 819 per 100,000 people, with a clear downward trend in cases, we will return to In-Person learning. If the rate is that high and is increasing, I will consider starting remotely. To learn more about our new COVID protocols and plans for January, watch this video presentation from Monday night’s Board of Education meeting.
If you would like to continue monitoring how the virus is impacting our community, please visit the following website: https://data.tchd.org/covid19/.
CCSD Phase-In Plan for Reopening Schools in January
The phase-in plan for reopening schools in January allows time to see if there is a surge in COVID cases from the winter holidays that would impact our ability to operate. It also allows for several days of student and staff COVID testing to identify potential asymptomatic cases. Our hope is that conditions will allow us to begin the second semester as follows:
- Monday, January 4 – Furlough day for all staff, no school for students
- Tuesday, January 5 – Teacher work day, no school for students
- Wednesday, January 6 – Remote learning day for all students
- Thursday, January 7 – Remote learning day for all students
- Friday, January 8 – Remote learning day for all students
- Monday, January 11 – Elementary students return to full In-Person learning. Middle and high school students return to In-Person learning using the new enhanced Hybrid learning schedule.
Parents and guardians will receive additional and specific information no later than January 4, 2021. I would like to thank our Teachers Association for their collaboration and for sharing the common goal of getting kids into school safely; they are truly a partner in creating a better future for all students.
I thank you for your patience and partnership as we navigate the pandemic together and implement new strategies to help our students and staff be healthy and successful this year.
Scott A. Siegfried, Ph.D.