Cohort classes among new guidance from state as districts prepare to reopen schools

In this graphic from the state, officials show how one positive COVID-19 case could expose many...
In this graphic from the state, officials show how one positive COVID-19 case could expose many others if students are not kept to small groups.(Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment)
Published: Jul. 21, 2020 at 8:40 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - The state has issued new guidance for schools as districts scramble to come up with a plan to manage students and staff returning this fall while navigating a historic pandemic.

State officials say getting students back inside the classroom is important, a position backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

“Children learn social and emotional skills, get healthy meals and exercise, mental health support, and other things that aren’t available with online learning,” said Dr. Sara Goza, president of the AAP.

But COVID-19 mitigation remains critical as the pandemic shows no signs of winding down. Cases are up nationwide, and even though Colorado has not been as hard-hit as states like Texas, Arizona and Florida, cases are up here too.

The Colorado health department held an online news conference Monday to present new recommendations for the 2020-2021 school year. Some, we’ve heard before: social distancing, wearing masks. Other guidance was released for the first time Monday, including the concept of “cohort classes,” which if implemented would see schools break classes into small groups of students who stay together during the whole day.

“Cohorting significantly reduces the number of students and staff who will need to be excluded in the event of a case of COVID-19 in a school by limiting the number of close contacts of each individual (all of whom will need to be quarantined up to 14 days if they have close contact with a case). Considerations about the number of close contacts should be included in decisions about transportation and activities as well,” the guidance reads on the state website.

During the news conference, officials presented graphics that show how quickly one case could spread through a group. But if students are kept to a small circle, exposure to a positive case would be limited to that cohort.

“It also allows us if there is a positive case in a school or other environment, allowing us to focus our public health response,” one state official said Monday.

Reporter Danielle Kreutter reached out to several Pikes Peak region school districts to get their reaction to the guidance. At the time of this writing, Kreutter is still waiting to hear back from several districts, but the ones who responded Monday night said they had already been considering the cohort class model when creating their own back-to-school plans.

The state says their goals for the upcoming school year are as followed:

  • Maximize in-person learning in as a safe and healthy way as possible.
  • Ensure a reasonable level of safety for students and staff for in-person learning.
  • Minimize disruptions to education by facilitating timely responses to COVID-19 through cohorting students and staff when possible, screening for symptomatic individuals, and coordinating closely with local and state public health agencies.
  • Ensure equity in educational opportunity by considering learning and health needs of all students, including those with varying health conditions, economic backgrounds, language skills, or educational needs.
  • Encourage flexibility, adaptation, and innovation as schools develop novel approaches to disease control appropriate to local contexts and as scientific knowledge about COVID-19 transmission and control develops.

To read more from the state, including further guidance rationale, click here.

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