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Denver school board member: If students meet in person, the board should too

A virtual meeting of the Denver school board and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Denver school board has been meeting virtually since March.

Screenshot by Melanie Asmar

A Denver school board member is calling for his colleagues to resume in-person board meetings now that Denver students are gradually returning to classrooms.

Board member Tay Anderson said it seems hypocritical for the seven-member school board to continue to meet on Zoom while asking teachers and students to return to classrooms. Starting Monday, he said he plans to connect to the board’s Zoom meetings from a conference room at Denver Public Schools’ headquarters, where meetings were held before COVID-19.

It was not immediately clear Monday if the board would change its practice. The board was scheduled to meet virtually for a work session Monday afternoon.

“If it’s not safe for us to meet, then it’s not safe for us to put 35 kids in a classroom with a teacher,” Anderson said, referring to the maximum allowable class size. 

Preschool students began returning to classrooms last week. Kindergarten and first grade students will follow later this month. Denver Public Schools expects its classrooms to be open to all students by Oct. 21, though middle and high schools will still have some virtual classes.

Denver students, with the exception of preschoolers, have been attending solely virtual classes since Aug. 24. A virtual option will remain available for families who prefer to stay online. The district is asking families to make a decision — in-person or virtual — by Friday.

Anderson said his inbox is full of emails from parents, about half of whom want school buildings to reopen and half of whom do not. He said some have criticized the board for continuing to meet remotely while asking teachers and students to meet in person.

The district has been requiring all adult employees to conduct meetings virtually. In early August, Superintendent Susana Cordova rolled out “The DPS Five,” a set of health protocols for anyone working inside a district building. No. 4? Adults should meet virtually with other adults.

A key part of the district’s plan to minimize the spread of COVID-19 relies on keeping people separated into small groups who only meet with each other. In a school, that means no in-person staff meetings. Then, if one teacher gets sick, only that teacher and the students she teaches would have to stay home — rather than having to shutter the entire school.

School board members are not district employees. Rather, they are elected volunteers. Anderson said there are ways to hold school board meetings safely — for instance, using a high school auditorium that has more space for social distancing than would a conference room.

“If our teachers have to put their lives on the line, then I’m willing to do the same,” he said.

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