Jeffco Public School releases fall reopening plans, providing first detailed glimpse of what schools could look like in 2020-21

Come fall, Jeffco Public School students may head to their campuses on a scheduled rotation of in-person and remote learning to prevent too many kids and staff members congregating at once. Social distancing would be enforced during recess. Temperature checks and symptom screenings would be required to get in the doors, and masks would be recommended but not mandatory.

Jeffco Public Schools announced Friday the most comprehensive plan Coloradans have seen outlining what school might look like in the fall amid the new coronavirus pandemic. The plan is considered a draft to be amended by community input and changing public health guidelines, but it offers a glimpse into the murky future of trying to teach and learn after the highly contagious new coronavirus shuttered school buildings across the nation in March and disrupted education as we know it.

“We hear a lot from polar extremes,” said Jeffco Superintendent Jason Glass. “One side says there’s no way you can keep everybody safe and to keep everyone home. But there are costs to remote learning — academic costs, social, emotional and economic costs. It’s not risk-free to remain doing only remote learning.”

“Then we hear a lot from this other extreme that says it’s a hoax — that you should effectively pretend this isn’t happening and restore all in-person learning. We reject the extreme and polar opposites. We have to find a middle ground that restores in-person learning to the greatest extent we can, but we want to do so in a way that takes every prudent step to keep our staff and students safe.”

Jeffco looked to countries opening schools in other parts of the world for guidance along with advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local public health guidelines and consulting with other districts across the Front Range, Glass said.

The plan looks at three approaches depending on how the pandemic plays out — a traditional return to school, a remote return or a mix. The most likely approach would be a hybrid plan featuring in-school elements including new coronavirus symptom screening, one-way paths throughout buildings with signs directing people where to go, keeping windows and doors open when safe to allow for fresh air circulation, and limiting the sharing of school supplies.

Eventually, Glass hopes testing for COVID-19 is readily available in the district.

Come fall, Glass expects social distancing guidelines of six-feet apart will remain in place, although he’s not sure how many people will be allowed to gather in a classroom.

“We have to look at how many square feet are in a classroom, how many individuals are in a classroom,” Glass said. “That means we’re not able to have everybody back. It will lead us to split schedules.”