Instead of a snow day, Denver moved everything remote. That created chaos.

After Denver Public School opted for remote learning, parents and teachers scrambled to put together what a new day would look like.
5 min. read
Denver Public Schools buses on a snowy day, Feb. 4, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Smith Elementary teacher Jessie Erickson and her husband started rearranging what Monday would look like shortly after learning Sunday night that Denver Public Schools would move classes online.

Erickson has been teaching remotely since the start of the school year after getting an accommodation to do so. So her plans for Monday couldn't have been that much different than any other school day, right? Well...

"All my students were asking if they could get out early," Erickson said. "That's not something they normally ask."

Instead of taking a snow day Monday, DPS moved all classes online. The district closed all school and office buildings and paused curbside meal pickup and bus meal delivery. In September, the school district announced it would slowly phase in in-person learning.

Jessica Erickson and her 3-month-old. (Courtesy of Jessica)

Meanwhile, Aurora Public Schools, Cherry Creek, Douglas County and Jeffco Public Schools all elected to give students the day off because of the storm.

"Given the short notice for the shift to remote learning for tomorrow, we ask that our teachers who have been providing in-person instruction do their best to connect with their students on Monday and work to provide as much learning support as is possible under the difficult circumstances," DPS spokesperson Will Jones said Sunday night.

Erickson had to scramble like other parents and teachers to figure out how to make Monday work. A mother of two kids, she and her husband rearranged their schedules to make sure she could start teaching at 8:30 a.m. They decided her husband would take the early-day shift, taking care of the kids while she was working, and switch around noon.

Erickson usually teaches 4th and 5th grade math. But she said she "took one for the team" and decided to help teach students in a different grade. There are thirteen kids in her class; only four students showed up when class started Monday, though three more students had appeared by 9:30 a.m. Ten students normally attend her class.

"It was not a well thought out plan by DPS," Erickson said. "Snow days should be snow days, because it's a change of schedule for parents, it's a change of schedule for kids."

Students were all "extremely distracted," Erickson said, probably thinking about being outside doing fun stuff, like the things she would have done during her snow days as a kid. As for teachers, she said the district shouldn't have expected them to be checking their emails and figuring out lesson plans last-minute on a Sunday night.

Joe Shoemaker School staff distribute laptops to families with kids who need to study at home while COVID-19 "social distancing" orders are in place. March 25, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Jill Ozarski's five-year-old daughter goes to Stephen Knight Early Learning Center, which was closed on Monday. She and her husband told their daughter in the morning that she would be doing "computer kindergarten" for the day.

Ozarski summed up the day with one word: chaotic.

"Everyone's trying their best," including DPS, she said. But she would have preferred a snow day instead of subjecting her kid to a lesson that wouldn't have been effective.

While she and her husband are fortunate enough to work from home, their five-year-old still needs plenty of attention during remote learning sessions, she said. At one point, Ozarski and her husband were on work calls while their daughter was trying to log into the Chromebook the district gave her and their youngest was crying. Ozarski said her mother-in-law was able to help with some babysitting.

Students with access to DPS's Chromebooks were asked to log in for a normal remote day, while those who didn't have access to them would be excused.

Chris Cooper, a former teacher who is now self-employed, said he and his wife (also a former teacher) decided to give their three kids a snow day. Their two oldest are students at Park Hill Elementary School, and their youngest attends preschool.

After seeing DPS's email, Cooper said he and his wife tried to make a quick plan for Monday. Since the two oldest had recently returned their Chromebooks because they were going back to in-person learning, the family settled on a snow day. They had a great time, Cooper said, while he and his wife tried to get some work done while alternating child care duties.

Cooper emailed the teachers and principals, letting them know they wouldn't be able to participate in the school day. He said they've tried to tell their kids that they need to be flexible right now. He empathized with teachers who had to figure out a lesson plan last-second.

"I think, especially right now, some empathy goes a long way," Cooper said. "I don't want to complaint. Everybody's doing the best they can with what they've got."

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