Hopes high for second semester amid north metro schools

Districts implement new quarantine and testing strategies as they return to hybrid learning

Liam Adams
ladams@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/18/21

School districts in Adams County are returning for their second semester with new optimism and plans. Westminster Public Schools and Brighton’s 27J Schools returned to hybrid learning Jan. 11 and …

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Hopes high for second semester amid north metro schools

Districts implement new quarantine and testing strategies as they return to hybrid learning

Posted

School districts in Adams County are returning for their second semester with new optimism and plans.

Westminster Public Schools and Brighton’s 27J Schools returned to hybrid learning Jan. 11 and 12, respectively. Elementary students at Adams 14 in Commerce City and Adams 12 in Thornton both plan to return Jan. 25.

The 14-day COVID-19 case incidence rates per 100,000 people, a key metric districts use to guide their decisions, in the Adams 12 area is 517 cases, according to recent Tri-County Health Department data. In Westminster, it’s 714 cases, 27J, it’s 621 cases, and in Adams 14, it’s 764 cases. Rates in the Adams 14 area actually led district officials to push back an earlier return to in-person learning.

In some districts, about the same number of students decided to enroll in either the online-only learning or hybrid learning as last semester.

Approximately 71 percent of Westminster’s students are learning in-person and 29 percent are online-only, Superintendent Pamela Swanson reported to the WPS Board of Education at a Jan. 12 meeting. Slightly more elementary students enrolled in in-person learning at 27J this semester, while middle and high schools saw slight decreases in in-person students.

With area districts moving to all virtual learning in November after a spike in cases, boards, staff and students are eager to return to the classroom.

“I’m really excited for it (in-person learning) and also, I just want to make sure that we’re keeping up with what we want to do,” said Kathy Plomer, president of the Adams 12 Board of Education, at a Jan. 13 meeting.

Plomer and her fellow directors welcomed news from Superintendent Chris Gdowski that the district will stick with its plan to return to hybrid learning Jan. 25.

Gdowski said the incidence rates in the Adams 12 area is in a “...positive place that would support productive, in-person schooling without too much disruption in quarantines.”

A reason for Gdowski’s confidence is that Adams 12 will implement new quarantining and testing strategies this semester. Per new guidance from state officials, a student or staff in a quarantined cohort can end the quarantine early if that person tests negative for COVID-19. A staff member can come out of quarantine seven days afterward and students can return 10 days after.

Meanwhile, 27J Schools spokesperson Tracy Rudnick said, “27J will continue to follow what TCHD refers to as the ‘gold standard’ for quarantine at this time until we have updated guidance from TCHD to implement shorter quarantines.”

Also, Adams 12 plans to offer more saliva-based testing to students in quarantine who are symptomatic. Adams 12 and Westminster plan to launch a testing program that randomly selects students every few days, only if parents consent to it.

Meanwhile, there will be a new permanent testing site at Westminster High School Jan. 19, allowing staff, students and other community members to receive a test any day of the week.

Both Adams 12 and Westminster hope to participate in a state-directed program called Binax Testing that ships self-administered swab tests to peoples’ homes.

In addition to addressing health needs, Westminster’s board tackled an academic one at its Jan. 12 meeting by unanimously approving a resolution that asked the Colorado Department of Education to suspend standardized testing this year. While the resolution is a mere statement, state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, a Democrat who represents Arvada and Westminster, said at Chalkbeat’s 2021 legislative preview that she plans to introduce legislation that would direct CDE to suspend testing this year.

“We are all for accountability and to know where our students are academically,” said Westminster Superintendent Pamela Swanson at the Jan. 12 meeting. However, she added, “We need to spend every available moment that we have from now until the end of the school year making up for lost learning because of this pandemic.”

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