Colorado extends statewide school closures through end of April

School closures are a key part of the social distancing strategy that officials hope will slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Students at the Greenlee Elementary School on March 22, 2019 as Gov. Jared Polis and lawmakers announced a plan to fund full-day kindergarten. The picture would be vastly different a year later as the governor announced Colorado schools will remain closed at least through April 30, 2020.
Students at the Greenlee Elementary School on March 22, 2019 as Gov. Jared Polis and lawmakers announced a plan to fund full-day kindergarten. The picture would be vastly different a year later as the governor announced Colorado schools will remain closed at least through April 30, 2020. (Photo by John Herrick)

Colorado schools will remain closed at least through April 30, a move that makes it even less likely that in-person classes will resume this school year.

Gov. Jared Polis made the announcement Wednesday, a day after The Denver Post reported that Denver Mayor Michael Hancock would extend that city’s stay-at-home order at least until the end of the month. Along with closing bars and restaurants to dine-in service, school closures are a key part of the social distancing strategy that officials hope will slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

As of midday Wednesday, Colorado had more than 3,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 77 people had died of the disease. More than 600 people are hospitalized. Public health officials are investigating 16 outbreaks at residential facilities.

The order applies to public and private K-12 schools but not to child care centers, which the state has urged to remain open to ensure essential workers can keep doing their jobs.

The order leaves open the possibility that classes could resume in May, but Polis has said repeatedly that it’s “unlikely” that students will return to class. On Wednesday, he reiterated that returning to school may not be feasible. Many Colorado districts end their school year on May 22, leaving just three weeks for classes even if students were to return at the end of the month. Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest district, runs until May 29, while Pueblo 60 in southern Colorado runs until June 4.

On Tuesday, the Boulder Valley School District announced it will postpone high school graduation ceremonies, a step that other districts are considering.

Polis has said that social distancing measures that started two weeks ago seem to be slowing the spread of coronavirus. However, confirmed cases and hospitalizations continue to increase, and public health authorities say this is not the time to let up on precautions.

Polis said he’s considering the rate of spread of the virus, surge capacity at hospitals, and supplies of personal protective equipment as he weighs whether to ease any restrictions on work and movement. The state needs to significantly increase the number of critical care beds by mid-April, based on current trends.

After Denver announced its intention to extend the local stay-at-home order, a spokesman for the mayor’s office said that while the city order does not directly bind schools, “we would certainly encourage DPS to take appropriate steps to support their students, teachers, and staff by continuing to have them stay at home.”

Polis announced March 18 that all schools in the state would be closed at least through April 17. Many school districts had already announced closures of two to three weeks at that point. On March 25, Polis announced a statewide stay-at-home order after a number of counties did the same. The order still allows essential businesses, including child care centers, to operate. The order also allows food distribution at school sites or efforts to prepare for remote learning, such a laptop distribution.

The Colorado Department of Education has taken a flexible approach with districts, requiring only that they make some effort to engage students. The department said that school need not extend into the summer to make up instructional hours, and districts are not required to take attendance.

Polis praised the work that school districts have done so far to roll out remote learning and maintain some routine for students. Polis said it’s important that students not miss out on learning opportunities just because they’re at home. Many school districts have distributed laptops and even internet hotspots, as well as packets of schoolwork, to keep students engaged, but the rollout of online learning has been bumpy and uneven. Many advocates are concerned that students who face additional challenges, such as poverty, disability, and learning English, will fall further behind.

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Erica Meltzer on April 1, 2020. Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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