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SVVSD returns to remote learning

In a special meeting of the St. Vrain Valley School District (SVVSD) Board of Education held last week, Superintendent Don Haddad indicated that due to rising rates of COVID-19, the district would return to fully remote learning. The change will take place when classes resume after Thanksgiving break.

Haddad said the district's decision about whether in-person classes could resume in the new year would be announced in the first week of winter break.

Niwot High School principal Eric Rauschkolb responded to the change, sharing that while he was saddened, he understands the decision. "It was wonderful to have our students back in the building, and I am hopeful that we will be able to transition back into a hybrid model soon," Rauschkolb said.

In a letter sent to district families following the announcement, Haddad said that the Community Schools Program, which provides care to children whose parents work, would remain in place, as would a program offering free meals to children.

Haddad also stated the district is giving teachers the option to choose between teaching in person or teaching remotely during the last three weeks of the school year. He clarified that sports programs would continue to operate as they are currently, unless athletic directors receive new information.

Concerning potential job losses due to the change, Haddad said the district is committed to retaining employment for all employees during the pandemic, even if they can't work in their usual capacity.

Data shows COVID-19 cases are rising

In a presentation at the beginning of the meeting, Boulder County Public Health executive director Jeff Zayach quantified the COVID-19 increases that prompted the change. "The seven-day average of new cases tells the story about the challenge we all face right now. We are already well above the highest point at the University of Colorado outbreak in Boulder."

Since Zayach's presentation, other data has been released that is in line with this trend. On Friday, Nov. 20, Governor Polis has said that one in 49 Coloradoans are contagious with COVID-19, citing research from the Colorado School of Public Health.

These elevated case numbers have put Boulder County in the red zone on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's (CDPHE) COVID-19 status dial. Zayach explained that the new status is a problem for in-person learning.

"The quarantine requirements that CDPHE has put in place, especially in the higher levels like the orange and red, are no longer targeted quarantine," he said. "This means we have to quarantine entire classrooms when someone is positive."

He said the choice for remote learning has been the result, even though it is at odds with language from the governor's office that recommends in-person learning for grades K-5.

Haddad further outlined the impacts larger-scale quarantines have in the district. "There's a safety issue for us if you don't have the staff and personnel in schools. Jeff indicated in conversations we've had that they don't have the capacity to manage the quarantining protocol now required in schools. These quarantining protocols are not local control. They're state requirements."

Parent reactions

As expected, some district parents were less than happy with the decision.

Dan Maloit is a single parent and the founder of St. Vrain Educational Advocates, a group composed largely of district parents that was founded in early September.

Since its inception, the group has strongly advocated for returning to district learning and has met with Haddad to express their concerns. Maloit said, "The SVVSD administration is doing their best despite the operationally debilitating restrictions the state has put on them.

"Moving online is going to be a serious disruption for the education of our children, is dangerous for the mental health of the children, and is not a realistic option for many families to be successful at," Maloit said. "The governor and the CDC say to get back in school, because it's the safest place for kids, while the CDHE puts out a more restrictive set of quarantine measures that make in-person learning operationally impossible. I want to see the governor match his words."

On the Monday night before SVVSD's meeting, Maloit joined a group of 12 parents outside the state capitol who held signs and peacefully demonstrated, petitioning the governor to support changes to state guidance.

More about the district's decision

The decision to resume remote learning is in line with many schools in Colorado and around the country. Within the state, a number of districts, including Adams 12 Five Star Schools, Boulder Valley School District, Cherry Creek School District, and Denver Public Schools have made similar decisions.

Nationwide, schools in New York City's schools, Detroit and Chicago have returned to distance learning options. Each district maintains its own timeline and process for determining when and how in person learning will resume.

While making the announcement about the return to remote learning, Haddad expressed frustration that echoed Maloit's words.

"It is very easy to say that children be in school fully in person," Haddad said. "I think that. I have said that from the beginning, and I will continue to say that. And if that's the recommendation from the state, they need to make it operationally feasible."


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