COVID-19 to keep metro-Denver students home for rest of term
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Classrooms in 14 Denver-area districts will stay off limits to students for the rest of the 2019-20 school year because of the coronavirus pandemic, officials announced Friday.

A joint announcement by the districts, including Denver, Cherry Creek,  Jefferson County and Aurora, said they would keep their schools closed to normal classroom instruction until the 2020-21 academic term.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on March 18 ordered schools statewide to stay closed until April 17, leaving hope that students might be able to return to class after that. Then, on Wednesday, he extended his school shutdown order until April 30.

In place of "in person" instruction, students across the state have been "remote learning" from home during the closure. In many cases, districts are offering real-time online instruction.

The metro-Denver school officials explained their action in their joint statement by saying  that even after current stay-at-home orders are lifted, "we will continue to have restrictions on social distancing and the size of group gatherings for at least several weeks, if not months. Given the nature of a school environment (classrooms, passing periods, buses, playgrounds, etc.), these restrictions are not practical within the school setting.

"As such, there does not appear to be a viable way for us to convene traditional in-person learning this school year."

Also joining in Friday’s announcement of a continued shutdown are these districts: Brighton-based 27J, Adams 12 Five Star, Adams, Clear Creek, Douglas County, Englewood, Littleton Public Schools, Adams County-based Mapleton, Sheridan and Westminster.

"Providing a concrete direction now with regard to in-person learning for the duration of the school year allows us to focus our energy and attention to addressing questions and concerns, rather than ongoing uncertainty," the joint statement added. "It will also allow us, as school district leaders, to shift to a proactive stance in that we can begin to plan for completing the current year remotely, and returning to school in August when we are able to joyfully welcome our students, staff and families back into our buildings."

In a separate letter to Denver Public Schools families Friday, district Superintendent Susana Cordova said the call to stay closed was "a very difficult and painful decision, but one that’s made out of doing what we know is best for our community."

On Thursday, school districts in parts of Larimer, Weld, Boulder and Gunnison counties announced they would keep classrooms closed for the rest of the school year as well.

In response to the closures, state officials have relaxed some rules, including the requirement that districts provide 160 days of instruction each term. Districts in many cases are also adjusting their usual graduation requirements for high school seniors, and figuring out what to do about such rituals as graduation ceremonies and proms.

In Denver, "today’s decision means that we are canceling all athletic events, extracurricular activities and proms," Cordova said. "In addition, playgrounds and athletic fields are closed until further notice to reinforce social distancing and prevent further spread of the virus. Unfortunately, this decision also includes the postponement of in-person graduation ceremonies as well. We will do everything we can to reschedule these celebrations when health officials allow gatherings again, and we will find ways to honor the wonderful Class of 2020."

In Jeffco Public Schools, officials noted in a statement that "there are many unanswered questions, including the status of graduations and other end-of-year events, final exam schedules, preparing buildings and classrooms for end-of-school-year closures, and construction plans. We are working to determine the answers to these, and other questions, and we will be sharing that information as soon as possible."

In Cherry Creek, "all in-person school activities for the remainder of the school year are canceled," Superintendent Scott Siegfried said in a letter Friday. " ...We will not be holding commencement ceremonies in May as originally scheduled, but I am committed to find a way to celebrate the milestone of graduation for the Class of 2020, once it is safe to do so."

"Our … milestone student celebrations are of utmost importance and we are looking into options for high school graduations, as well as other K-12 student celebrations," Douglas County School District Superintendent Thomas Tucker said in a letter.

Rocky Mountain PBS is airing educational programs from 6am to 5pm weekdays to support at-home learning while the schools are closed. Accompanying lesson plans and/or digital materials are provided weekly on the page. rmpbs.org/learn