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Douglas County middle, high school students to return to classroom full-time in March

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Douglas County School District students in grades six through 12 will resume in-person classes five days a week next month as more -area districts move to bring older kids back to their classrooms before the end of the spring semester.

Starting March 22, Douglas County’s secondary schools will reopen for full-time, in-person learning for those families who have opted in for it, the district announced Thursday.

Currently, middle and high schoolers in Colorado’s third-largest school district attend on a hybrid schedule, in which students go to in-person classes two days per week. On Fridays, all students complete work remotely

Preschool and elementary students have been back in-person five days a week since Jan. 5.

Douglas County School District leaders decided to expand in-person learning opportunities because staff vaccinations are being completed more quickly than expected, interim Superintendent Corey Wise said in a note to families. The district will continue to require face coverings during class and rely on other safety measures, such as hand washing, increased building ventilation and “social distancing where feasible,” Wise said.

“It’s difficult to believe that it has been nearly a year since we first transitioned students to remote learning… due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our teachers, principals and other staff are ready to increase the in-person learning time for all students,” Wise said. “We are especially excited at the potential of our Class of 2021 students being able to finish their high school career fully in person.”

The neighboring Jeffco Public Schools is poised to follow suit, with an announcement expected before the end of this week.

On Friday, Jefferson County will move to Level Blue on the state’s COVID-19 dial after incidence and test positivity rates experienced sustained improvement. The county reported 91.1 new cases per 100,000 residents and about 3% positivity between Feb. 17 and 23, according to Jefferson County Public Health.

Level Blue or “Caution,” the second-lowest designation on the dial, calls for in-person learning for all grades.

As of Thursday, Douglas County is listed as Level Yellow or “Concern,” which still suggests in-person learning for all students.

Dr. Dawn Comstock, executive director of Jefferson County Public Health, said the agency has been advising the Jeffco schools on the safety of expanding in-person learning. Though trends in COVID-19 outbreak data suggest older students are at a higher risk of transmission than younger students, Comstock said it’s “very low risk” to bring them back to school under the current conditions.

“The science is clear that if schools follow a prescribed set of guidelines — such as ensuring that all students, staff, faculty wear masks, that there’s adequate ventilation, that there’s adequate distancing between students, cohorting and so on — then we believe it’s very low risk at this point to bring back K through 12 students,” she said, adding in-person learning should be prioritized over school-based extracurricular activities.

“Every kid benefits from in-person learning. Not every student participates in extracurricular activities,” Comstock said. “And if extracurriculars place in-person learning in jeopardy, that’s a concern.”

The Douglas County School District is the latest district to announce an expansion of in-person learning for secondary students.

Littleton Public Schools plans for middle and high schoolers to return for face-to-face instruction five days per week beginning March 15, while the Boulder Valley School District and the St. Vrain Valley School District expect to welcome back secondary students in-person four days a week after spring break, on March 30 and March 29, respectively.

The Poudre School District also will welcome middle and high school students back on March 22, after the district’s spring break.

Aurora Public Schools and Adams 12 Five Star Schools also have committed to expanding in-person learning for students in grades 6 through 12, though the timeline for their return is unclear.

In Denver Public Schools, the largest district in Colorado, in-person learning opportunities vary by school. It’s unclear whether the district will widely require or encourage full-time, in-person learning.

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