Dear Boulder Valley School District Families and Staff,
I truly believe that the Boulder Valley School District is at its very best when we work together. It is a big part of our culture. Over the past couple of weeks, this collaboration has been on display, as our Working Advisory Group – made up of students, teachers, principals and parents and co-facilitated by our Boulder Valley Education Association and district leadership – has been exploring ways to safely return students to in-person learning.
This has been our goal from the very beginning. We, however, knew that only by working together would we be able to overcome the logistical challenges and safety concerns expressed by our staff and families.
I am pleased to report that the Working Advisory Committee has made a great amount of progress in a short amount of time. Tonight, ahead of schedule, they presented some of their recommendations to the Board of Education. We have decided to move forward with the following proposals, which will move us to Phase 2+ – Limited In-Person Learning, starting this month for select groups of students, including the return of K-2 students to class on Tuesday, September 29
What has changed
As shared previously, we made the difficult decision to start the school year in Phase 1 because of a number of factors. The situation with COVID-19 had a lot of our staff members understandably concerned about in-person instruction. With a significant number of our teachers on health exemption, we did not feel that we could bring back students to hybrid learning safely or effectively.
COVID-19 Health Data, of course, remains an important factor. As long as there is active community spread of the disease in our communities, we will have strict health guidelines to meet, but currently the situation is relatively stable here in Boulder and Broomfield counties. This means that we can have students return, with precautions, including cohorting, contact tracing/quarantining, social distancing and the wearing of masks.
As a result the Working Advisory Committee’s work has been focused on recommendations that prioritize how the district can use the staff that it has to best meet the needs of our students, in the safest possible ways.
It is a tremendously challenging and complex task when you consider that there are often challenges within challenges that must be worked through. That is part of the reason why the transition is not immediate and why we can’t bring all students back immediately. We have begun the process of transitioning staff between roles, which at times, requires the reassignment to different buildings.
Outdoor Learning Opportunities - Starting September 29
We recognize that here in Colorado we are blessed to have excellent weather this time of year. The Working Advisory Group suggested allowing BVSD schools to bring students together in outdoor spaces, as long as they meet safety guidelines. In addition to allowing students the opportunity to see and interact with each other – with social distancing and masks – we believe that this will open the door for our teachers to find innovative ways to connect with students in a relatively safe environment.
These opportunities will of course be contingent upon the weather and the situation with COVID-19 both in each cohort and the community as a whole.
With equity as a focus, the following specific student groups will be offered in-person opportunities:
Learners with the most intensive needs - By September 29
Students in our most intensive special education programs will be among the first welcomed back to school. As long as they are able to meet health precautions, including the wearing of face coverings, and maintain social distancing they will be able to return to in-person learning two days a week for students in grades 3-12 and four days a week for students in grades K-2 beginning with the implementation of Phase 2 +. In an effort to ramp up to the implementation of phase 2+ we are beginning a pilot roll-out for students in our HS intensive programs that will provide them the opportunity to participate in 2 half days designed to support their access to home learning. This is set to start September 8th.
K-2 Return to the Classroom - Starting September 29
As you might recall, our youngest learners have been one of our biggest concerns from the very beginning. Education is extremely important for each and every one of our students, but our Working Advisory Group acknowledged that this time is especially precious for our kindergarten through second-grade students, who are laying their educational foundations. Research has shown that if students fall behind in these early grades, it is incredibly difficult for them to catch up. Not to mention that we also recognize that children at this age also require a lot more one-on-one support. They are less-able to stay still during synchronous learning opportunities or complete assignments independently and therefore the lessons are a larger burden on our families.
As a result, as long as they are able to meet health precautions, including the wearing of face coverings, we will be offering the opportunity for up to four days of in-person instruction for this age group.
We hope to follow shortly after with a reintroduction of preschool students, but this will take a little extra time because we are needing to reassign staff members who were temporarily utilized for childcare, back to preschool classes.
Return to Classroom at some mountain schools-Starting September 29
Internet service is an issue for some of our families who live in the mountains, so we are also prioritizing the return of students in our mountain schools. Initially, students at Gold Hill and Jamestown elementary schools will be returning four days a week, starting September 29. We are still exploring ways to expand access to learning at the schools in Nederland for those families that do not have access to high-speed internet at home.
Hybrid learning at Boulder TEC -Starting September 29
Boulder TEC’s focus on hands-on career-development opportunities and small cohort groups makes it a good candidate for students to attend two days a week in person and two days online.
We know that parents of students in Grades 3-12 will be disappointed that they can’t return more fully to school. Being able to meet outside will help provide these students with some opportunities to in-person learning for now. The Working Advisory Committee has indicated that one of their next priorities will be exploring more ways to return 3-12 graders back to in-person learning.
Remote learning remains an option for all students
With these developments, we want to reassure all parents that students will always have the choice to remain home if they do not feel comfortable or they are not medically able to participate at any given time after we return to Phase 2+ Learning. Please see below for how to opt your student out on in-person learning.
There will be no negative repercussions for staying home. Additionally, efforts will be made to ensure that students who are learning from home have the opportunity to participate remotely and are incorporated, when feasible. Finally, we will continue to offer child-care for families that need it.
Expectations for in-person learning
We also want to be careful as we set expectations for this next phase of learning.
In-person learning is by no means guaranteed.
It is part of the reason that we decided to start the school year with Home Learning. Remote learning will remain our baseline at every step. We, of course, will welcome in-person learning opportunities when the situation allows, but every student, class, school and even the district, as a whole, should expect and be ready to return to remote learning at any time. Students and teachers who do not feel well (see the full list of symptoms here) will be asked to stay home. Students and teachers who have presumptive or confirmed cases of COVID-19 will be quarantined and depending on the situation other students or the entire cohort may be asked to stay home as a precautionary measure – to slow the spread of the disease.
Additionally, we will consider it a privilege to participate in in-person learning. Only students who are able to abide by health precautions on a regular basis will be permitted to participate. No exceptions.
Cold and Flu Season is coming. We intend to be nimble
We recognize that the approaching cold and flu season poses an enormous challenge. In addition to the Working Advisory Group’s continuous efforts to explore ways that we can nimble during the challenges we will face this fall – including the likelihood that many of our students will be kept home for periods of time because they are exhibiting common cold and flu symptoms that wouldn’t have kept them home before – but now, given the current guidance from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, would keep students at home.
We are working with our partners in public health at the local and state level, to discuss ways to improve the guidelines so that we properly protect students, while not closing schools for coughs and sniffles.
Mode of Learning
As we prepare for the transition to Phase 2+, we would like your help in ensuring that we have students properly assigned to the right mode of learning. If you would like to opt your student out of in-person learning for any of the opportunities that we have mentioned thus far, you can change your student’s preferences now following these instructions.
We are asking that at this time parents who want to switch back to in-person learning work with us on timing for this. We may need a little time to find a placement for families wanting to switch back to in-person learning.
We will be once again sending a Mode of Learning confirmation email next week with the current mode your student is in and, again, instructions on how to opt-out of in-person learning. We would ask all those considering opting out of in-person learning to do so by September 22. For those in Grades 3-12, we also ask you to update your learning preferences so that we have the most accurate data when evaluating more opportunities.
Opportunities to Learn More
We know that many families may have additional questions, so we have set up a few ways for you to engage the district and learn more about our plan and to get answers.
Back Together BVSD Website
Our plan and Frequently Asked Questions have been placed on our reintroduction website.
We have updated our Frequently Asked Questions to answer questions around Phase 2+.
Let’s Talk Education
Join us on Thursday, September 10 at 4:00 p.m. on Comcast Channel 22 or via livestream at bvsd.org/bv22 as we talk with our staff about what Phase 2+ will look like.
Thank you for your partnership
Finally, I want to thank all of you for your support and feedback during these trying times.
We have gotten thousands of emails, social media posts and Let’s Talk comments. I want you to know that while I haven’t been able to respond to every message, I do read everything that comes into my inbox. I appreciate the sentiments and stories that have been shared with me and I take seriously all the feedback that we receive.
It really pains me, as an educator and the superintendent of this district, to hear from families and employees that are critically impacted by the situation. Some of our parents are struggling to make ends meet, while trying their hardest to support their students' learning. I have heard about students who are having difficulty with remote learning. Finally, a number of employees have reached out worried about the unknown during this uncertain time.
I hear you. I know the anger and frustration are real. At times things have moved quickly and some of the changes, including the decision to start the school year in Phase 1 were unexpected.
We have worked to be as transparent as possible and communicate frequently as our plan came together and as the situation continued to change. You can count on us to continue to provide clear and honest updates every step of the way.
Please know that our team’s goal is always to put students first. We know that is done best when we as a district work together.
Together we will make it through these times.
Boulder Valley School District