‘Back to School,’ in Denver and all of Colorado will be unlike any school year the city and state have ever experienced. From the state’s largest school district---Denver Public Schools---to scores of its smallest, restarting classes in the fall will be decidedly unprecedented. In making the decision to resume school, public education is following the path of COVID-19 and trying to stay as clear of this often deadly virus as possible.
In Denver, teachers are beginning a two-week prep period this week before the actual start of school, a start that will not include a simple unlocking of the doors and bringing students back. This year, in DPS and beyond, school begins remotely. “A remote start will help our community, our city and our state to keep cases (of coronavirus) from spiking and overwhelming our health facilities,” said Susana Cordova, DPS Superintendent.
Cordova’s announcement of resuming classes remotely, while practical and pragmatic in light of the virus that has killed more than 163,000 Americans, including more than 3,000 in Colorado, goes against the results of a summer survey taken by DPS parents. Nearly three quarters of those taking the survey said they wanted their children back in the classroom.
Almost uniformly, the metro area’s school districts plan to reopen in a way similar to Denver. Aurora Public Schools says remote rather than in-person learning will be in place through October when the first quarter ends. “A decision about whether to begin in-person learning” will be made depending on the trajectory of the virus, the school district said.
Jefferson County, the state’s second largest public school system, plans for an August 24th remote start. The first two weeks will be virtual. The District is planning a September 8th in-person/hybrid start.
While it would appear the metro area’s largest school districts are moving with more caution in restarting school, Cherry Creek Schools plan both full-time and part-time in-person classes beginning August 17th. It will also offer all curriculum virtually.
But the start of school is not the same for all students, particularly younger ones, said Dr. Angela Narayan, a clinical child psychologist who teaches at Greeley’s University of Northern Colorado. “COVID has been impactful,” she said. Young children have witnessed the sickness, deaths, job losses and financial impacts on family, extended family, or friends. The impact of this virus, the likes of which have not been seen in more than a century, has been unprecedented. It can take a toll, said the UNC psychologist. “Depending on the extent of stress, that could affect attention, emotions and behavior,” of younger children. “It can be a very stressful time.”
Adding to that is whatever action Washington takes. Unemployment checks that have included an extra $600 a week have now come to an end. Without the money to buy food or pay rent, a child may struggle emotionally. It’s a lot to put on a young person, said Narayan. “I think that for kids who are at least 3,4 or 5, they’re going to remember this time.” The memory will be different for each young person. “I don’t think we can say it will have long-term effect. I think it will have increased effect on how children integrate with others.”
Most school districts have mental health experts on hand to address the emotional needs of students. “The way kids receive help and support will have a big effect,” Narayan said. “Kids,” she added, “can’t process (the problem) if nobody asks.”
While schools are generally taking a cautious approach to the return to school, President Trump has said he wants schools to reopen despite a nationwide upward tick in confirmed COVID-19 cases. He believes it will free parents with school-aged children to return to work and help get the economy going again. The trouble with that approach is that many of these parents no longer have the jobs they had pre-pandemic. Also, in his own family, his son, Baron, won’t be returning to school any time soon. The private school he attends is moving cautiously and has announced it is offering only a virtual curriculum for the fall semester.
But it is not only children or even older students who may be impacted by this very unusual start to school in the era of coronavirus. There are more than a few teachers and even nurses who are opting to not return to class for fear of the virus.
Like other large school districts, DPS has done its best to adapt to the new world that COVID-19 has forced on it. Classrooms will be configured so that social distancing can be enforced. Masks or face coverings will be mandatory with the exception of lunch or snack time for younger students. Buildings will meet the highest standards for cleaning and sanitizing. Employees will also conduct all meetings virtually and, to minimize the possibility of spreading germs, no longer will teachers have access to refrigerators and microwaves.
Athletics have also been impacted. CHSSA, the organization that oversees all public school athletic programs, has reshuffled the traditional athletic deck. Only a handful of competition will take place in the fall. Boys golf and tennis will be played this fall, as will girls softball. The premier fall sport, football, has been moved to the spring. A full calendar can be seen at www.chsaanow.com.