COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - As the 2019-2020 school year comes to a close, educators are evaluating what next school year will look like amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In Colorado Springs School District 11, students will likely still be doing remote learning.
“It’s looking more and more like in the fall, we’ll probably return to some form of online or distance learning, but it may not look like what we’re doing right now,” said Devra Ashby, D-11’s public information officer.
She said the district is going over several different models and options for what the 2020-2021 school year could look like.
“We’re looking at the possibility of returning to either a scenario of A) like what we’re doing right now with all online distant remote learning or B) a hybrid model of having some students at home alternating with some students in the classroom.”
Ashby said D-11 is asking for feedback from families on how they feel distance learning went to help shape plans for the next school year.
“We’re always trying to collaborate with our families because we know that they know their children best and they know what’s best for their families,” she said.
The district plans to submit a proposal for next school year to the county and state health departments by late June, according to Ashby.
Now that D-11 and school districts around the country have adapted to online and remote learning, they feel more prepared moving forward.
“We had to turn on a dime and almost overnight create a new way of learning for students, a new way of teaching for our teachers and a new way of just living for our families,” Ashby said. “So it’s been very challenging, but we’ve also learned a few things.”
Some of those things include educators learning how their students learn best and what the needs in the community are.
“We know that not everyone has access to those types of technologies or as much technology as they need in their home, and we’ve had to work through paper packets and mailing paper packets and addressing those types of things.”
Ashby said teachers and students are also better prepared to use this form of learning going forward.
“Now, we have a different way of addressing remote education on those days when it might be critical to keep kids home,” she said. “So going into the future, we’ve definitely learned a new way to teach kids and a new way for students to learn.”
Obviously the school year didn’t come without challenges and disappointment, especially for seniors. D-11 had about 1,600 students graduate in 2020.
“We know this year has been very challenging having to overcome several different things that have been stripped away from our seniors,” Ashby said. “So we’re doing everything that we can to make sure that they feel special, that they’re honored to the best of our abilities.”
She said every high school was doing something different for its students. Some set up a professional photographer to take pictures of students in their caps and gowns. Other teachers drove around to congratulate their seniors.
D-11 also handed out DVDs of a virtual graduation ceremony for every student.
“It has a speech from the principal, from student speakers,” Ashby said, describing the virtual graduation. “It’s got some music on there, as well, music performances. It replicates, as much as possible, a traditional graduation. Each of the students is called by name, and their picture is shown on the screen, as well.”
The district is also planning to hold in-person, student-only graduation ceremonies for all of its high schools the week of June 22. This is possible because El Paso County applied for special permission from the state.
According to D-11, the following guidelines will be in place during the ceremonies:
- Ceremonies should be held in a staggered manner as late into the spring or summer as possible to allow for the evaluation of current loosening of social distancing policies.
- Written plans must include a fully virtual option in the event incoming data prohibits hosting in-person ceremonies (D11 is already planning for virtual graduations in May).
- Ceremonies must be held outside with weather contingency plans of transition to virtual-only. Indoor ceremonies are prohibited.
- Ceremonies must be STUDENT ONLY with minimal staff required to manage students and flow of ceremonies.
- All students and staff must meet six-foot social distancing at all times, including when entering and exiting the ceremony.
- No parents, guests, or observers are allowed on-site. Ceremonies may be broadcast electronically for all viewers.
- No associated social gatherings of students or staff are permitted at ceremony facilities prior to or following the ceremony.
- All students and staff must wear cloth face coverings over the nose and mouth at all times, with the exception of individual photographs by an official photographer while social distancing from others.
- Students and parents must sign a permission slip or behavior contract concerning risk mitigation. It must include a health screening survey that is completed the day of the ceremony and prior to entry, to include questions about fever, cough, congestion, chills, or other symptoms exhibited by the student or others in the household in the previous 14 days, with any positive answers resulting in exclusion of the student from participation in the ceremony.
- Students are encouraged to avoid vulnerable persons for two weeks following their participation in a graduation ceremony.
- Communication to students should include a recommendation that they not participate if a family member is considered vulnerable.
As the school year ends and D-11 looks to the fall, the district is also facing major budget cuts.
“This year, because of everything happening COVID-related, we are looking at budget cuts for K-12 education in District 11 up to $30+ million in our budget, which is something that we’re really struggling with right now,” Ashby said.
The district qualified for about $6 million in relief from the CARES Act, which has to be used for coronavirus-related expenses, but that money does little to make up for the major cuts the district is facing. The district’s budget is normally around $220 million.
“Our board takes it very seriously and tries to keep any kind of budget cut as far away from the classroom as possible,” Ashby said. “We’re looking at all types of different scenarios: reducing different administrative budgets, reducing different operating budgets in order to keep the cuts, again, as far away from the classroom as possible.”
By law, the Board of Education has to have a balanced budget in place by the end of June.
“So we’re coming up with all different types of scenarios right now to present to the board,” Ashby said. “The Board of Education has to approve the finalized budget. We’re anticipating they will do that by June 30 at the very latest.”
D-11, and school districts around the country, are not alone in their uncertain financial future.
“It’s something that is unprecedented during this time, and it’s something that not just K-12 public schools but all government will be facing as we move forward.”