Return To Learn

  • Thursday, July 2

    Return to Learn graphic Dear D49 Families,

    The beginning of our next school year is approaching rapidly! Although our community has done an admirable job containing the spread of COVID-19, we are still working with conditions and restrictions that will make school look far from normal when we open in August. Because we are planning to return with full enrollment on a standard schedule, we are working to make sure our schools balance the best possible education with the safest learning conditions. In normal circumstances we would look forward to our campuses buzzing with activity at the start of a new year-- Crowded hallways, bustling cafeterias and dining spaces, and even excited spectators standing shoulder-to-shoulder at D49 sporting events. This is not that. We fully acknowledge we will resume learning in the midst of an ongoing public health emergency. We will strive to hold on to fundamentals: providing excellent education to all learners in the classroom setting while limiting close interactions and making sacrifices where we must to create environments that allow meaningful, in-person learning and limit the potential spread of illness.

    We’ve been listening to our community over the last 12 weeks, and with over 10,000 responses to our surveys and public forums, we know our community is highly interested in the details and specifics of our Return to Learn plan. Even though we are inviting all our students to attend every day, that’s about the only normal thing we’re planning. The following FAQ is an index of our thinking and planning, with links to more detailed information and plans from our departments and schools. 

    Every school and classroom is different, so we need time to rearrange spaces and reconfigure programs to achieve that balance. As we plan, we are depending on two resources: 1, our public health agencies from El Paso County, Colorado, and the nation, and 2, the amazing teachers, support professionals, and administrators who make up the workforce in D49. To make sure that our workforce family has the time and training they will need to keep public education and public health in the best balance possible, we are adjusting our school opening calendar and making other necessary changes to our procedures and practices.


    Section One: Schools and Educational Programs


    • Q: How will the calendar or schedule change?

    A: To begin, we are delaying the planned start of school by four days to create time for planning and preparation. Unless new public health or other conditions disrupt our planned calendar, we intend to follow the remainder of the school year calendar as published and posted. The return schedule will look like this:

    • Monday, Aug. 3: D49 Return to Learn Prep Week Begins
    • Friday, Aug. 7: Power Zone Elementary Orientation, By Appointment Only. Info will come from your PZ school. 
    • Friday, Aug. 7: First Day for Kindergarten, 6th Grade and 9th Grade for all other D49 schools
    • Monday, Aug. 10: Friday Day of School for All Other D49 Students
    • D49 Charter Schools schedule may vary. Stay connected at 

    Once we have all students back on campus after August 10, we will run a normal schedule, with some minor adjustments to accommodate transportation routes. Within each day, we will adjust the bell schedule to reduce congestion and contact between groups of students.

    Unless new public health or other conditions disrupt our planned calendar, we intend to follow the remainder of the school year calendar as published and posted.


    • Q: What medical and community guidance are you following?

    A: We are working most closely with guidance from El Paso County Public Health (EPCPH), but we are also attentive to guidance and orders from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). We are also evaluating recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP), and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). We will post the most current guidance documents through the school health section of our district website. We depend on our school nurses to act as subject matter experts and to provide training and guidance to non-medical district staff.


    • Q: How large will class sizes and student groups be?

    A: Our planning target is to schedule students into groups of 25, but we will customize plans for specific situations if space constraints limit our ability to safely distance, or if we can support larger groups in larger spaces with adequate distancing. Final determinations about class size and student groups will be an important final topic during our prep week for Return to Learn. We will consider options like staggering passing periods or establishing one-way movements in our hallways. We will also reset learning spaces to create seating arrangements that optimize physical distance recommendations.


    • Q: What about masks? Are they required or recommended?

    A: For students, we recommend students who can tolerate them wear a cloth facial covering in school settings. Knowing that not all students will wear masks, we may adjust specific seating assignments or implement other safety measures to reduce any disease transmission. For staff members, we will require all members of the workforce to wear a cloth facial covering anytime they are present with other people. Staff members who have a medical or other condition that prevents them from wearing a mask may request an exemption, and we will work with medical experts to create appropriate workplace accommodations. For parents and other visitors, we recommend wearing a mask. More details about our expectations for the mask culture in D49 are available on the information webpage of our human resources department.


    • Q: For those who won’t return to in-person learning, will D49 provide an E-Learning option? When should we register our interest or enrollment in E-Learning?

    A: We know that families will apply differing criteria as they decide how to participate in our return to learn. For students that choose not to attend in person, we will provide a school-based E-learning option. We will roll out an E-learning registration process in mid-July to quantify the demand and begin establishing E-learning sections. Schools will designate E-learning leaders who will coordinate remote learning lessons across grade levels and schools.


    • Q: How will the restrictions and guidelines affect physical education and sports?

    A: We are already operating summer athletic programs for strength and conditioning as well as practice for future competition. Guidance from the county health department and state activities association (CHSAA) sets the types of activities we may conduct, as well as the parameters for coach-student contact. More detailed information is available through each school’s activities office, or activities director.


    • Q: What about other activities like band, choir, theater, and clubs?

    A: We are still analyzing our options for large-group classes like the performing arts. We may shift to larger spaces, limit participation, or change our methods for large-group rehearsals and performances. Schools will begin detailing specific adjustments and making schedule changes or accommodations once building administrators and teachers are together to modify existing plans.


    • Q: What will recess look like?

    A: Knowing that younger students need physical activity and interaction to get the most out of each school day, we are committed to maintaining safe and regular breaks for physical activity and safe social interaction. While the schedules and group sizes may look different compared to traditional recess, we will continue to use existing playgrounds and equipment as part of our recess programming. We may adjust or limit some games and other activities that normally include more contact than we deem safe, but we will replace those activities with low-contact alternatives like bean-bag tag, or spread out field games.


    • Q: How will you support students with special needs or accommodations?

    A: Learning plans for students with disabilities, at-risk characteristics, medical conditions, or who need language development are highly individualized. No district guidance or plan will capture the individual needs and strengths of each student and the education team that supports their learning. As part of our Return to Learn, multi-disciplinary teams across our schools and zones will modify individualized learning plans to balance optimal learning with optimal safety.


    Summary for Schools and Educational Programs

    Over the next few weeks, as our staff return from summer break and begin to re-engage with the school year ahead, we will analyze our schedules, lessons, assessments, and daily operations to make sure they wrap snugly around the educational framework we’ve already established, which aligns with the guidance of local and state health experts.

    All of these details are still in development. Our building leaders and teachers will collaborate to prepare for a return that aligns with the values and expectations of our D49 Family. We will take the time we need, and you will hear from your schools directly when their plans are finalized. We encourage you to keep a close eye on our main channels of communications for important updates     


    Section Two: Educational Support Operations


    • Q: What will schools do differently in terms of cleaning and disinfecting?

    A: Our entire facilities team, from district leaders to building managers and crews, have spent the summer stockpiling and distributing cleaning materials and supplies. We have expanded our procedures for regular, enhanced, and as-needed cleaning, and are supplementing our workforce with additional team members and contracting with third-party providers to provide extra personnel resources. We will continue following best guidance and complying with all applicable material safety standards for cleaning supplies and materials. We are also exploring systems for disinfecting with UV light to complement our normal procedures.


    • Q: Will there be any changes for transportation?

    A: Yes. The current guidance for bus transportation is to limit ridership to one student or household group per seat. That constraint will decrease our fleet capacity by approximately 50%. Accordingly, we are making adjustments to bus routes, walking zones, and procedures for isolating cohorts of students from each other. More detail is already available on the information pages of our transportation department website.


    • Q: How will schools handle lunchtime procedures?

    A: Lunchroom configurations vary by school, so adjustments to lunchtime procedures will be very school-specific. We anticipate a mix of brown-bag, lunch picked up in the cafeteria, and school lunch delivered to classrooms. Some students will eat lunch in classrooms, others in cafeterias, and others may use other large spaces to facilitate distancing. We recognize there are significant safety concerns about food allergies, clean eating surfaces, and efficient food service operations, so nutrition services team leaders are meeting with school leaders to develop optimal plans for school lunch.


    • Q: How will schools conduct health screening for students, staff, and visitors?

    A: Through our summer operations of Base49, as well as the district operations already underway, we have developed screening forms and acquired scanning equipment to check temperatures and monitor for other symptoms. We will rely on a mix of observation, personal reporting, and health worker verification to monitor and respond to any indication of infection or sickness. School health leaders in zones and schools will attend additional training sessions to unify our practices for health screenings.


    • Q: If a school has an outbreak, what will happen?

    A: Our response to any single or cluster of infections will depend on the number of individuals both detected and exposed. We will use contact tracing methods to decide if it is most appropriate to apply quarantine measures to individuals, cohorts of students/staff, or an entire school. All our responses will be coordinated with county health leaders, and compliant with our district-wide protocols for an assertive and measured response to any outbreak of any size.


    Section Three: Educational Finance Considerations


    • Q: How is D49’s budget affected by the emergency?

    A: Reductions in state revenue have created a budget shortfall that is passed along to all Colorado districts. As a result, D49 is absorbing a budget cut of 5.3%, which equates to $4.15 million reduction in revenue. Although we will receive some one-time relief funds, those resources are tightly constrained and only available this year.


    • Q: Will D49 be cutting pay for teachers or other staff?

    A: The school board approved a budget for 2020-21 that maintains all salary schedules at their current levels, so we have been able to protect our workforce from pay cuts by absorbing the budget shortfall in other ways.


    • Q: Is D49 planning to use layoffs or furlough days?

    A: The budget proposal and school calendar approved by our board do not include furlough days.


    • Q: Will D49 have to make up non-student contact days from the first week of school? Will we lose funding if we don’t?

    A: Although the Colorado Department of Education has not issued a blanket, statewide waiver, their pattern during the spring semester closure indicates that they will not sanction schools who make good faith efforts to maintain learning despite COVID-19 disruptions. Even without a waiver, lost contact days will have no effect on district funding.

D49 Mask Culture

  • Planning a Safe Return to Work

    Starting in July, D49 employees will begin going back to work and interacting directly with colleagues and students on a regular basis.  As we do this, we want to take steps to provide a safe environment for all people. Many experts, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC: See reference below), continue to recommend wearing masks as one way of minimizing spread of COVID-19. We intend to follow that guidance and will expect staff to wear masks any time they are around others in the workplace.  

    As we have with many of our plans throughout this disruptive season of COVID-19, we turned to our Cultural Compass to shape our expectations for wearing masks. We demonstrate purpose and responsibility by helping to ensure a safe working and learning environment. Wearing a mask shows care for others. As a matter of respect, every person has the right and responsibility to ask another to mask up.  

    Mask Expectations for D49 Employees

    All D49 employees are expected to wear masks while at work. In practice, it will go like this:

    • Put your mask on before you enter the building so you will be masked when you get to your check in point.  
    • Whenever you are in a public or common area, such as lobbies, hallways, front offices, lounges, and break areas, wear your mask. 
    • When you are interacting with others, such as while giving instruction, supporting a student or while in meetings, wear your mask.  
    • Wear a mask during in-person interactions with other people including staff, students and parents.
    • In some limited situations, staff may be mask-free at work, with the approval of the school or department leader. Examples might include: 
      • When you are working alone in a classroom, office or other private area
      • While driving a district vehicle alone
      • In a meeting where individuals can be sufficiently distanced (6 or more feet apart) and where all attendees agree that masks can be optional in that meeting
    • Employees are expected to supply their own masks.


    Exemption Request Process

    Employees who have concerns about wearing masks at work may request an exemption from the expectations by completing and submitting a form. Each request will be reviewed on a case by case basis.  Exemptions may be granted for health reasons. Filling out the form does not guarantee an exemption.  


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