Denver Public Schools plans to reopen middle, high schools “as close to full strength as possible” after spring break

Denver Public Schools plans to expand in-person learning for middle and high school students after spring break, following other districts in the metro area that are working to bring older kids back full-time before the end of the semester.

Michael Ramirez, deputy superintendent of schools, said in a board of education meeting Thursday the goal is to operate secondary schools “as close to full strength as possible” after students return from spring break on April 5.

To do so, the district will be making several changes to how schools currently operate, including increasing the cap on class sizes from 17 to 35 kids and removing the limit on how many cohorts a teacher can interact with during the day. The district will require a minimum of three feet between students and adults in each respective classroom.

“We’ve had many discussions with Denver Health and our current understanding is that the logic behind cohorts really has faded,” Ramirez said. “This shift in rationale is shifting because of our increased understanding of transmission and how to mitigate it through masking and distancing and continued evidence that the spread of COVID in schools is still very rare.”

DPS also plans to expand extracurricular activities, such as drama, chess and debate. Extracurriculars should take place outside when possible since these classes are likely to mix student cohorts, the district’s guidance said.

Officials said they expect all teachers to be vaccinated by the end of spring break, which will offer more flexibility in scheduling — and hopefully cause fewer disruptions — in secondary schools.

Interim Superintendent Dwight Jones acknowledged there are still challenges to overcome before the end of the semester. Staffing, for one, has been an obstacle since the start of the pandemic and Jones hopes to bring back more teachers currently conducting remote classes to bolster on-campus operations.

Though teachers will be vaccinated, students will not — there are no COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in children — so onsite safety measures remain paramount, Jones said.

“We know that transmission for some of our older students can be similar to adult transmission, so we also have to think of safety and wellbeing of our students as we start to bring students back,” Jones said. “That’s why we are taking the precautions that we’re taking and making sure we’re doing it in the right way.”

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