COLORADO SPRINGS — Colorado Springs School District 11’s board voted for a mostly-remote learning plan to start the school year, keeping most students learning from home until October 15.
Around two-thirds of students in the district of 26,000 will be entirely at home during the first quarter of the year, another third will be in-person or part of a hybrid model.
Special education and English-second language students as well as students under the Title READ Act in Colorado will be some of those who will be part of in-person learning. Students in Career Technical programs or AP programs that require lab time will be some of the students that fit into a hybrid model — going to in-person classes for those that require it while taking other courses at home.
“We know students thrive with in-person learning. We know that is the best way when there isn’t a pandemic going on for them to be in a classroom,” said Devra Ashby, the public information officer for the district. “However, we’re right in the middle of a pandemic and the health numbers are not in our favor right now.”
Ashby points to data on the El Paso County Public Health dashboard that shows zip codes within District 11’s region are experiencing high levels of COVID-19 cases. She also said other school districts across the country have had to close after starting school in-person learning because of outbreaks.
“I think it’s appropriate to sort of lead the way. We recognize in ways that maybe others don’t, the responsibility of children’s safety,” said Joe Schott, the President of the Colorado Springs Education Association, the union representing D-11 teachers.
On Schott’s mind, as well as the CSEA members, is also the health of teachers, some of the 3,500 of the district’s faculty. He says, there are many teachers who want to get back to the classroom but recognize the risk other teachers in at-risk populations or have family that are more at-risk from COVID-19 may be taking by showing up to class.
“Everybody wants to be back with the students. Every teacher wants that, that’s why we’re in the business but, we have to do it safely,” Schott said.
Teaching will be more rigorous than in the spring when schools were forced to figure something out to get through the remaining weeks of the school year.
“Instead of crisis teaching, what was going on in the spring across the country, we’re now refined,” Ashby said.
That means taking attendance, more traditional grading, and more regular contact with teachers.
“They’re not going to be able to slide the way that some students were and quite honestly, fell through the cracks in the Spring,” she said.
There has been a concerted effort to make sure technology doesn’t force some students through the cracks either. Surveys indicated two-thirds of families had adequate devices and over 99 percent had sufficient access to the internet.
Ashby says, the district is able to provide a one student to one device ratio with tablets for younger students, chrome books for intermediate age, and laptops for high school students, paid for by CARES act money.
Most of the families without sufficient internet access have been provided it with the help of the D-11 foundation, where donors have helped fun connectivity.
Ashby recognizes the stress remote learning will put on parents and the strain on families schedules, but hopes they will understand why the decision was made.
“It’s not ideal, understandably so, but no school district is going to get this 100 percent right and please 100 percent of parents. It’s just impossible, we’ve never been through this situation before,” she said.