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State releases recommendations for getting students back to in-person learning

Classroom full of desks. Credit: ZUMA / MGN
Classroom full of desks. Credit: ZUMA / MGN(KWQC)
Published: Dec. 16, 2020 at 8:16 AM MST
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DENVER (KKTV) - With hope on the horizon in the form of a vaccine, Colorado officials say it’s time to focus on bringing students back into the classroom.

Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday that the state was developing a road map to help schools safely return to in-person learning this winter and spring. The effort is being spearheaded by a back-to-school working group launched by the state last month, made up of those who would best understand the challenges for students and staff: teachers, parents, superintendents, paraprofessionals, school board members, and health officials.

“We‘ve learned a lot about virus infection patterns, and we now know schools are relatively low-risk and they can be a safe place when safety measures are taken,” Polis said during his weekly briefing on the state’s COVID-19 response.

Polis is a former school superintendent and former chair on the state Board of Education and says education is near to his heart. He spoke Tuesday on the hardship the pandemic had imposed on schools.

“We know that what has been occurring simply hasn’t worked for too many kids, teachers, parents, and we can and we must do better. ... Learning loss is a real problem kids are facing, and it’s even more severe for those already at-risk, vulnerable, low-income, or those that don’t have access to reliable internet.”

The back-to-school working group is tasked with finding the best way to bring kids back into the classroom. Tuesday, Polis presented some of the group’s recommendations based on its work so far:

- Prioritizing in-person learning by suspending extracurricular activities that would allow students to mingle until after hybrid or in-person learning have been happening without any issues

- Encourages all of the usual COVID-19 precautions

- Asks for schools to be prioritized when it comes to testing and vaccines

- Implores the community to do its part too to keep schools safe

“We all want to get our youth back into school as quickly as possible, so we all have a role to play,” said Heath Harmon, the group’s co-chair. “That role is doing our best to decrease the spread in our communities.”

“I’ve watched my own kids struggle with remote learning despite their teachers’ heroic work,” fellow co-chair Rebecca Holmes said.

The governor said the state had plenty of supplies to provide on-site testing for anyone showing symptoms at school. He said the state intended to follow the CDC’s new recommendation regarding quarantine, where if someone tests negative after seven days, they can return to school. Previously, it was 14 days.

Teachers are in the second phase of a three-prong process to get Coloradans vaccinated. The second phase is currently expected to start in the spring, though the timeline is subject to change based on the vaccine supply. The state has also said the prioritization of citizens is subject to change based on the ever-changing data and science.

Polis was asked why teachers were not given higher priority in the vaccine distribution.

“Teachers are prioritized. The first goal of the vaccine is to save lives. The second goal, end the pandemic. Saving lives: nursing homes, people in their 70s and 80s. You have to look at the science and data around the fatality rate from this virus. It’s not two or three or four times more fatal for somebody in their 70s and 80s than somebody in their 20s or 30s -- it’s a hundred times more fatal for somebody who is 86 than 26 or 36. So, with that lens, it is absolutely critical we protect those who have a fatality rate that’s 100 times higher than you, than me, than a teacher, than any worker who is in their 30s or 40s or even 50s. So it’s really important we align by that. But after the people who work in COVID wards and health care workers, those who are most vulnerable over 65, after that very first group is teachers and some of the other front line essential workers, which will be prioritized because returning to school is a societal value.”

Polis said vaccines would be in place for summer school and the 21-22 school year.

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