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Live updates on coronavirus and Colorado schools

Alan Petersime

March 18

Districts add new food distribution sites, one relaxes rules

The Adams 14 school district north of Denver announced Tuesday afternoon that they had served 500 students on their first day handing out grab-and-go meals.

The district this year has about 6,600 students.

To make things easier for more families, the Adams 14 school district is now allowing children to go to the middle school sites with a trusted adult other than a parent, or come to school on their own, if needed, and they will still get a meal.

Aurora, following feedback, added a new location where meals will be distributed Tuesday.

Jeffco Public Schools is also adding four more locations where families can pick up meals on Thursday.

You can find all the new locations and details, here.

March 14

The full list of Colorado school closures

Here’s the list of districts that have announced school closures due to coronavirus so far. Collectively, they serve roughly 85% of all Colorado students. Many of them were about to go on spring break and the closures extend those breaks by a week or two, in some cases more.

Colorado General Assembly goes into recess for at least two weeks

Facing an unprecedented public health crisis, the Colorado General Assembly has gone into recess for at least the next two weeks.

For anyone who has spent time in the Colorado State Capitol, it’s easy to see why. The building has thousands of feet of railings and hundreds of doorknobs to touch, and it’s constantly full of visitors crowded together, lobbyists having close conversations with lawmakers, and members of the public packed into committee rooms for hearings.

Colorado State Capitol
Colorado State Capitol
Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite

The new coronavirus spreads easily when people are in close quarters for prolonged periods of time, and the recommended “social distancing” is hard to practice at the Capitol.

Lawmakers are seeking a ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court about whether they still have to finish their business by May 6, when they normally would have adjourned, or if the 120-day session can include non-consecutive days. It’s not at all clear whether it will actually be safe to return on March 30, as lawmakers currently hope to do.

Critical business for schools remains undone: the state budget and the school finance act.

The Joint Budget Committee still plans to meet on Monday to hear the March economic forecast, a presentation that will include huge uncertainty about the economic impact of the pandemic. State Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat and member of the committee, urged the public to listen online rather than come to the Capitol.

You can do that here.

March 13

Jeffco Public Schools announces free meal sites

Jeffco will join Denver in giving out free meals to students during the coronavirus-related school closures.

In Denver, the Denver Public Schools Foundation announced a fundraising effort to feed adults in need, in addition to students. The “food security fund” will also raise money to provide families with food over the weekends.

It’s ‘hellacious:’ Parents and child care providers grapple with coronavirus closures

Amid the wave of cancellations this week due to the novel coronavirus, there’s been a growing sense of panic among parents and child care providers worried about the turmoil of the coming month.

With many Colorado schools, preschools and some child care centers closing for at least two to three weeks, parents are scrambling to figure out who will watch their young children while they report to work. Meanwhile, child care providers are struggling to figure out if they should follow the lead of local school districts and close, or forge ahead on their own.

Read more here.

The CDC issues new guidance for school closures

Guidance released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encouraged schools to close in certain circumstances, while acknowledging other countries’ experiences haven’t proved closures would slow the illness.

The guidance says that shorter school closures, of two to four weeks, had not clearly proven effective in limiting the coronavirus spread in other countries. Closures of eight weeks or more, the CDC said, could be more effective.

Read more here.

Colorado’s school closure guidance calls for closing schools for 72 hours to 14 days, depending on the number of students or staff members with COVID-19. Most Colorado school districts have announced they’ll close for two to three weeks — even though they don’t have COVID-19 cases among students or staff.

Asked whether the CDC guidance changes its own rules, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said it is following both sets of guidance.

“The intention of this guidance, as well as the school districts’ individual decisions to close for two to three weeks, is to limit the spread in Colorado and their communities,” the agency said.

Colorado announces its first death from COVID-19

The woman lived in El Paso County and was in her 80s, “with underlying health conditions.”

“While we were expecting this day, it doesn’t make it any less difficult to hear and share this news. As a state we are in mourning and our hearts go out to the family and loved ones of the Coloradan we lost,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement.

As of Friday afternoon, 72 people in Colorado had tested positive for COVID-19.

Aspen Public Schools will close for two weeks

On Thursday evening, as schools around Colorado announced they would close for several weeks to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, students carried on with a scheduled performance of Guys and Dolls in Aspen, one of the communities most affected by the new disease.

But the performance was streamed with no live audience, in accordance with restrictions on large gatherings.

On Friday morning, Aspen joined dozens of other districts in announcing it would be closed for at least the next two weeks. There will be no effort, for now, to do remote or online learning.

Despite having more cases than many counties, Aspen was slower to close.

“When there is tremendous pressure to cancel school, we would do so with factual information about the transmission trends we have in our community and the capacity of our system to support this action,” interim Superintendent Tom Heald wrote in a letter to staff Friday. “Colorado counties are watching how we navigate this event and our actions will determine how those in other areas may respond.”

Kay Erickson, a kindergarten teacher and president of the Aspen Education Association, the teachers union there, said she pushed hard for next week to be treated like a week of snow days, a time for teachers to recover from what has been an incredibly stressful week.

Teachers had mixed feelings about school remaining open earlier in the week, Erickson said, but generally support closing now.

“We had a lot of staff who did not feel cared for or that any consideration was given to the best preventative measures,” she said. “And we had staff who said, ‘we’re healthy, we’ll keep going until spring break.’ But as more cases have come out, the staff is really thankful.”

Denver libraries and recreation centers will be closed Monday “until further notice”

That’s notable because Denver public schools will also be closed starting Monday. Families who may have hoped to rely on libraries or recreation centers for entertainment or a safe place for children to spend time will not have that option.

Colorado applying for waivers to make it easier for schools to offer meals during closure

The Colorado Department of Education has received a waiver from the federal government that will allow school districts to provide meals to students, during these school closures, without the usual requirement that students eat together.

The Denver school district, for instance, already announced they would offer meals for students to pick up and take home, at eight schools around the city. Jeffco officials said they are also working on a plan.

The state also applied for two other waivers. One would allow meals to be served outside of schools, such as happens in the summer, when community partners help offer the service.

The other waiver will allow schools that are offering meals to be flexible in what is included as part of that meal. This may include whatever inventory the providers have in stock, and could include “shelf stable or frozen” food items that may last for multiple days. You can read the waiver requests here.

With announcement this morning from Poudre, it’s official: All schools in Colorado’s 10 largest districts will close.

The 31,000-student Poudre district announced a week-long extension of spring break today. It will now run from March 16-27, in line with closures in most other Front Range districts. The neighboring 16,000-student Thompson school district announced the same closure schedule today. Meanwhile, the 7,300-student Weld Re-4 district, based in Windsor, announced a closure running from March 16 through April 5, the same as what’s planned in Denver Public Schools.

Clayton Early Learning closes through March 20, effective immediately

The Denver-based preschool and child care provider announced the closure of its northeast Park Hill site and other operations, including home visiting and community programs. The organization serves many low-income families and leaders there said they’ll work to support them during the closure.

Becky Crowe, Clayton’s president and CEO, said in a press release, “We know this will compound existing challenges of food insecurity and parents’ ability to work and support their families. Health and safety must take priority, but we are also beginning a simultaneous emergency response plan to help sustain the basic needs of our families.”

March 12

The full list of Colorado school closures

Here’s the list of districts that have announced school closures due to coronavirus so far. Collectively, they serve more than two-thirds of all Colorado students. Many of them were about to go on spring break and the closures extend those breaks by a week or two.

At least one Denver-based preschool provider will close for three weeks

Sewall Child Development Center, which serves young children with special needs alongside typically developing children, will close its nine locations for three weeks starting March 16. Leaders there said they are following the lead of Denver Public Schools, which announced the same closing dates earlier Thursday evening.

Douglas County, Adams 14, Adams 12, and Westminster Public Schools will close schools

The 67,000-student Douglas County school district, Colorado’s third largest, will extend next week’s spring break an extra week to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Currently, school is set to resume March 30. In a letter to families, district officials wrote, “DCSD strongly encourages student attendance tomorrow, Friday March 13. Students will be receiving instructional materials and directions to be ready for remote learning during the week of March 23-27.”

The three Adams County districts also announced late Thursday night plans to close for the next two weeks starting March 16. In a letter to district families, Westminster officials wrote, “WPS has been preparing for this possibility for some time and we are developing a plan to continue with supplemental education for our students while they are at home as well as providing food service for families in need.”

Pikes Peak area schools also closing

More than a dozen school districts in the Pikes Peak region will close schools for two weeks starting March 16, according to The Gazette. Districts include Colorado Springs 11, Academy 20, Manitou Springs, Cheyenne Mountain, Elbert 200, Fountain-Fort Carson, Pikes Peak BOCES, Miami-Yoder, Harrison, Hanover, Lewis-Palmer, Cripple Creek-Victor, Calhan, Peyton, Woodland Park, District 49, Widefield and 22. The Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind will also close.

Littleton Public Schools is closing, too

Littleton Public Schools will be open Friday but closed for two weeks from Monday, March 16 until Monday, March 30, according to an announcement on the district’s website.

“LPS is unable to replace core instruction and special services with online learning and services due to issues of capacity, equity and access,” the announcement says. “We will provide optional supplemental resources and activities that are designed to provide students and parents with opportunities to extend learning beyond the classroom. More information about these optional supplemental learning opportunities will be shared in the coming days.”

Denver will offer free meals to students while schools are closed
Some Adams County districts are staying open (for the moment)

Adams 12, Adams 14, and Westminster Public Schools plan to hold school Friday, but notes on their websites all mention the possibility of future closures. Officials in Adams 12 said they’ll announce any decisions about closing schools and extending spring break on Friday after discussion with public health officials. They also noted that field trips scheduled for Friday will go on as planned. Westminster officials said they’ll announce any closure decisions Friday evening.

Jeffco district announces school closures and remote learning plan

Colorado’s second largest school district announced tonight that schools will be closed starting Monday, March 16 and students will spend the week learning from home. A note on the district’s website said, “During next week, Jeffco Public Schools will transition to a Remote Learning and Work Plan. Students will work with their teachers to continue instruction from home during this period. A detailed message will be sent to families tomorrow morning outlining the remote learning plan and expectations.”

Jeffco’s spring break runs from March 23-27.

Boulder Valley schools closing March 13-29

The Boulder Valley district will also close for two weeks starting Friday. District officials said in a note on the website that a person in Boulder County tested positive for the coronavirus Thursday. “At the recommendation of Boulder Public Health, we will be closing all schools in Boulder Valley, beginning tomorrow, March 13, 2020 through the end of Spring Break (March 29, 2020),” the announcement said.

St. Vrain Valley schools also closing

The 32,900-student St. Vrain Valley School District is also closing. From the district’s website:

“Late this afternoon, we were informed … that a person in Boulder County has tested positive for COVID-19 and came in contact with others in the community while sick. To this end, at the strong recommendation of Boulder Public Health, we will be closing all schools in St. Vrain, beginning tomorrow, March 13, 2020 through the end of spring break.”

Denver schools to close March 16 through April 6

All Denver schools will close starting Monday in an attempt to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, district officials announced Thursday. Denver schools will be open for learning as usual Friday. The schools will also be open on Monday and Tuesday for students to gather their belongings, but no teaching will take place.

Read our full story on Colorado school closures here.

Cherry Creek schools closed tomorrow through March 27

An alert on the district’s website Thursday evening said the closures will “prevent what we have seen happening around the country and in our world due to the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). This two-week school closure includes daycare. There will not be daycare from March 13 through March 27. We are taking this action to protect the health and wellbeing of our 55,000 students, 9,000 employees and our entire community.”

Westminster district officials say plans in works for school closures

A message posted on the district’s website Thursday evening said district officials had “conversations late today with the Governor’s office, other school district leaders and public health experts. Districts are now formulating plans for possible Spring Break extensions and closures over the next two weeks. Updated information will be provided on Friday evening.”

District 27J closes schools, effective immediately

The Brighton-based district announced that schools will be closed through March 27. Two district schools — Riverdale Ridge High School and Reunion Elementary — were already closed this afternoon due to a “presumptive positive result for coronavirus,” according to a letter sent to families by Superintendent Chris Fiedler. The district was already scheduled to have spring break March 23-27.

Read about the closures in 27J and Aurora.

Aurora school district announces an extended break

The Aurora Public Schools will have a two week spring break as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The Aurora district had announced earlier in the day, along with several other districts, that it was cancelling all after school activities for the day. Thursday was the last scheduled day for most Aurora students before spring break. Friday was a district teacher planning day, and spring break was to start Monday. Now instead of returning to classes March 23, Aurora students and staff will be out of school through March 27.

The district will reassess and decide “whether students and staff should return March 30.”

The district is also cancelling all athletics, activities, events and childcare during that time. The announcement notes that the district will be asking the state for flexibility from mandatory seat time and state testing requirements.

The Thursday notice also said there will be follow-up communications “with additional information about distribution of meals, access to online education resources and new developments.”

An entire Colorado school district announces it’s closing

The Gunnison Watershed School District announced Thursday that it will close its seven schools beginning Friday for two weeks.

The reason? To help limit the spread of coronavirus. The schools do not have any confirmed cases, though three people in Gunnison County had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday afternoon.

Read the full story here.

Next State Board of Education meeting may be online only

The State Board of Education, which meets in Denver every month, usually for two days, adjourned Thursday afternoon with a note that April’s meeting may be online. The April meeting is scheduled for the 8th and 9th.

Angelika Schroeder, the State Board president, said that if the spread of the coronavirus is still an issue then, “we may be sitting up here by ourselves.”

Usually the meetings include time for public comment, and the room sometimes gets full.

“But we will be online,” she added, referring to the livestream of the meetings. “Stay tuned.”

Districts cancel after-school activities through early April, per CHSAA

Officials from Colorado districts announced the cancellation of all after-school activities, including sports practices and games, music practices and performances, and clubs. The cancellations run Friday through April 6 in Douglas County, St. Vrain Valley and Boulder Valley, and today through April 5 in Littleton.

The only exception to the extracurricular activities cancellation is the state boys basketball Final Four game scheduled this weekend at the Denver Coliseum. That will go on as scheduled with each player limited to four guests.

Why 72 hours?

New rules issued Wednesday require schools where a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 to close for 72 hours. In a press call Thursday, Scott Bookman, incident commander for Colorado’s public health response, explained the rationale. It’s not just so that school buildings can get a thorough cleaning. That time period also allows public health authorities to further investigate the situation and decide if a longer closure is appropriate.

Other districts around the country have already decided to close for two to three weeks. The entire state of Ohio took that step Thursday with just five confirmed cases, compared to the 44 cases here.

Bookman said every state is making its own decision with the best information available, and Colorado public health authorities continue to monitor an evolving situation.

Colorado has expanded the availability of testing as well as the criteria, but officials acknowledge having a hard time keeping up with demand. A new drive-through testing facility had to close early on its second day of operation due to long lines.

At the same time, Bookman said there is not enough evidence of widespread infection to warrant banning public gatherings, as other states have done.

Aurora Public Schools cancels after school activities

Aurora Public Schools is closing all after school activities Thursday, saying it is a preventative measure due to the continued spread of coronavirus.

Students in Aurora already do not have classes Friday and will be on spring break starting Monday. The state guidance issued Wednesday recommended that districts avoid activities that bring together students from different classes.

The district did not immediately respond to questions about the announcement. Read the district’s message here.

Third Denver public school closes due to coronavirus connection

John H. Amesse Elementary in far northeast Denver announced Thursday afternoon that it is closing after two family members of a student tested positive for COVID-19.

Read the full story here.

Adams 12 won’t reinstate school for students on March 19. Instead, staff will report for coronavirus planning.

The district cancelled classes for students on March 19 due to a planned teachers rally in Denver. With the rally called off because of coronavirus fears, Adams 12 officials will use the day to work with staff to develop distance learning plans in the event of long-term closures related to the virus.

Second Denver public school closes because of parent with coronavirus

Edison Elementary in northwest Denver now joins Cory Elementary in southeast Denver in being closed due to parents who’ve tested positive for COVID-19.

Read the full story here.

Thirteen Colorado community colleges prepare to switch to online learning

The Colorado Community College System, or CCCS, is preparing to transition to remote instruction, according to a Thursday press release. The system is also limiting large gatherings and discussing whether to extend spring break.

The system serves more than 125,000 students and has 20,000 employees. The press release notes that not all courses can move online, and the system is contemplating how to continue to deliver those courses safely.

“Due to varying institutional size, location, and programming across CCCS colleges, some courses may not be appropriate to transition to remote learning, such as welding and nursing labs. To provide students with the opportunity to continue their educations in which they have invested so much time, money, and effort, while ensuring safety for students in these career and technical education programs, courses will be held in spaces that allow for adequate social distancing.”

March 11

Governor says schools with confirmed cases will close for 72 hours

Colorado schools will have to close for 72 hours if a student or staff member is identified as having COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, and schools that have multiple cases will have to close for 14 days, under new rules issued Wednesday by Gov. Jared Polis.

If a district has multiple schools affected, the state will recommend the district close for 14 days.

Read the full story here.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis speaks at a State of Colorado podium, surrounded by several people.
Gov. Jared Polis declared a state of emergency March 10, 2020, as Colorado works to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.
Hyoung Chang / The Denver Post
First Colorado public school closes in response to coronavirus

Denver’s Cory Elementary School closed Wednesday because a parent of two students there “has a confirmed case” of the new coronavirus, the district said in a letter sent to families Tuesday night.

Read the full story here.

March 10

Teachers union cancels statewide rally over coronavirus fears

The Colorado Education Association announced that it would not hold a major teacher rally scheduled for March 19.

Union leaders had expected more than 5,000 educators and supporters to attend the Day of Action rally from districts around the state. Thirteen school districts and two charter networks had announced closures for that day due to the large number of staff absences. Other large school districts, like Aurora and Douglas County, are on spring break.

Read the full story here.

And in some districts, school is back on.

Colorado child care workers eligible for sick leave

Colorado child care workers, school bus drivers, and cafeteria workers are among those who would have access to temporary paid sick leave under emergency rules intended to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Read the full story here.

Village for Early Childhood Education at North in Littleton, Colorado.
Village for Early Childhood Education at North in Littleton, Colorado.
Erica Meltzer/Chalkbeat
As coronavirus hits, most Denver schools don’t have full-time nurses

Alarmingly, 79 schools — or about 35% — have a nurse on campus just one day a week, according to district data.

“I feel like we’re waiting for something terrible to happen to do something,” said Jaye Horvath, the nurse at Gust Elementary, one of only 25 Denver schools with a nurse five days a week. “I don’t want to wait.”

Read the full story here.

Here’s what we know about children, infection rates, and COVID-19

Can children get the new coronavirus? Can children spread it? What does it all mean for teachers and families?

Read the full story here.

March 9

Should schools close? Here’s what the research says

Past experiences make clear that there are no easy answers. Research has found that such closures have helped contain outbreaks. But closing schools would also present significant challenges for families — especially low-income families.

Read the full story here.

Denver’s East High School
Denver’s East High School
Denver Post file

March 8

Two Denver high school students under self-quarantine

Two students at Denver’s East High School who were exposed to a man who tested presumptive positive for the new coronavirus are under self-quarantine.

“The family has shared that both students are healthy and are not showing any symptoms of the virus,” said a letter from East High Principal John Youngquist to the East community on March 7.

Read the full story here.

March 5

Lessons from a district that battled a highly contagious stomach bug

With coronavirus now present in Colorado, leaders of the 22,000-student Mesa County Valley District 51 aren’t letting their recent experience with a contagious stomach bug go to waste.

“The good news-bad news is we had a dry run in November,” said Superintendent Diana Sirko.

Read the full story here.

March 3

The CDC told schools to plan for remote learning. That’s harder than it sounds.

As schools grapple with responding to the new coronavirus and the federal government’s recommendation to plan for extended closures, one thing is becoming clear: remote learning remains a remote possibility.

Read the full story here.

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