Dr. John Douglas, executive director of Tri-County Health Department, gave a measured stamp of approval to Adams 12 Five Star Schools’ plan to bring secondary level students back for full-time, …
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Dr. John Douglas, executive director of Tri-County Health Department, gave a measured stamp of approval to Adams 12 Five Star Schools’ plan to bring secondary level students back for full-time, in-person learning.
“I think the more our kids can be in a supportive and frankly, in-person settings, I think the overall outcome of their health will be better. So, I try to think about this as holistically as possible,” Douglas told the Adams 12 Board of Education at a March 3 meeting.
Douglas’ appearance at the meeting followed Adams 12 announcement Feb. 26 that more than 9,500 middle-and-high school students are allowed to be in the classroom four days a week. They will still learn remotely on Wednesdays. Seniors and identified special population students will return March 8, while the rest are slotted for March 29 and 30.
Students will be separated by at least three feet of distance and the district is installing air purifiers in school buildings. The board unanimously approved the purchase of nearly 3,000 purifiers at the March 3 meeting.
With the district taking those steps, Douglas said, “I think we’re in a very promising place for schools that can implement the matrix of preventive strategies that you all have been doing.”
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still recommend six feet of distance. Yet, Douglas said, three feet of distance in concert with other precautions, such as single, or double, mask wearing, “should be able to maintain a safe environment.”
The one caveat Douglas said he’s most concerned about is greater transmission of new COVID-19 variants, particularly the United Kingdom one, also known as the B.1.1.7 strain. “We are seeing more diagnoses of it, but it’s not going up in the way it went up in the UK, yet. Now it could,” Douglas said.
The board and Superintendent Chris Gdowski welcomed Douglas’ comments as an endorsement for the in-person plan. Though, there was pushback from someone in the community. An Adams 12 parent, Tara Dahlinger, expressed frustration that the option to return to four days of in-person learning wasn’t available to families who were already enrolled in full-time, remote learning.
Dahlinger said, “Had this been an option, I am sure the majority of the students would have opted to do the hybrid, especially the seniors if they would have known the outcome ahead of time.”
A district spokesperson said Adams 12 didn’t allow full-time, remote learners the option because so many hybrid students already opted for full-time, in-person learning.
Also, at the March 3 meeting, Gdowski teased what will be a difficult budget-drafting process for the 2021-22 school year.
“At this juncture, what we believe is that we have some difficult decisions to be made around this year for next year. One of them relates to how much staffing should we maintain and how many predictions should we make around enrollment for next year.”
In the 2020-21 school year, the district had 2,000 less students than it did the prior year, the majority of whom were grade levels pre-school through second grade, Gdowski said. The major issue there is the state bases its funding for school districts on the number of pupils in that district.
Based off projections for next year’s revenue, the district might have $14.5 million less than what it would need to maintain the current student-to-teacher ratio, Gdowski said. On the other hand, if the new federal coronavirus stimulus package passes, some estimates show Adams 12 receiving $34.5 million in federal relief funding.
Gdowski said a lot could change before the board will be voting on next year’s budget and that district staff will present more detailed reports to the board in upcoming meetings.
The superintendent said, “Bottom line is: this will be a year that final budget development will be late … there is a lot at stake and more complexity than normal in this year’s budget.”
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