It's too soon to say when Englewood Schools might return to in-person learning, the district announced on Nov. 13, but it will be “at least after Thanksgiving break.” The district announced on …
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It's too soon to say when Englewood Schools might return to in-person learning, the district announced on Nov. 13, but it will be “at least after Thanksgiving break.”
The district announced on Oct. 28 it would switch to all-online learning in the face of surging COVID-19 numbers, ahead of a wave of metro-area school districts to make the switch.
Though the announcement said the shutdown would last for “at least two weeks,” district officials say the situation has only gotten worse.
“More people in our community are contagious right now than at any time during the pandemic,” an announcement on the district's website from spokesperson Julie McMorris reads in part.
Unlike other nearby districts that have announced shutdowns extending at least until the spring semester, Englewood officials say they will continue to monitor local virus data weekly to decide when a return to classrooms is warranted.
“We made a promise to our community that when the metrics say it's safe to come back, we'll come back as soon as we can,” said Joanna Polzin, the district's acting superintendent (Wendy Rubin, the permanent superintendent, is on leave responding to a family emergency).
The district was not immediately able to provide the number of positive COVID-19 cases identified district-wide so far this semester, saying the data would have to be compiled from multiple school nurses.
But there have been enough to trigger about two dozen targeted quarantines in schools across the district, according to the district's website.
“As far as we can tell through contact tracing, we're not seeing a lot of spread within the buildings,” said Ryan Cowell, the district's human resources director. “But the cases coming into our buildings are causing a level of disruption that's unmanageable.”
Keeping classrooms and schools fully staffed has been the biggest challenge, Polzin said.
“We're not shutting down so much because of outbreaks, but more because there aren't enough teachers or substitutes to keep everyone safe and maintain the learning environment,” she said. “Teachers want to be with their kids, but we also want everyone to be safe.”
Polzin said the district has been able to transition all course offerings to online formats, including career and technical educations programs like cosmetology.
The district is also offering daycare at Charles Hay and Clayton elementary schools through a third-party contractor, for which parents or caregivers pay $35 per day per child.
Asked why the district can provide schooling at no up-front cost but charges a fee for daycare, Polzin said because the daycare company is a third-party contractor, they charge their own rates.
“We need our teachers teaching, and they can't do both,” Polzin said, adding that she was not immediately sure whether the daycare program allows the use of state vouchers that cover the cost of daycare for low-income families.
The district will continue to provide breakfast and lunches at no cost to families, Polzin said, through several designated pickup sites, as well as using buses to deliver meals to farther-flung neighborhoods.
For now, Polzin said Englewood Schools will continue to monitor local virus metrics with the goal of getting back in classrooms.
“We don't even necessarily need all of them to decrease so much as just stabilize, just stop getting worse,” she said.
Cowell said it's up to the community to take the steps to get students back in person.
“Contact tracing is consistently showing the connection between private gatherings and virus spread,” he said. “We want to come back, and we're confident in our protocols, but we can't keep having the virus come into our buildings so much that we have to keep up these levels of quarantines. Everyone has to do their part.”
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