Denver Public Schools will reopen Friday

But “conditions in our schools are deteriorating quickly with the omicron surge,” said a spokesperson for the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.

Denver Public Schools' Discovery Link before- and after-school program at Carson Elementary School. March 17, 2021.

Denver Public Schools' Discovery Link before- and after-school program at Carson Elementary School. March 17, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
kyle harris

Denver Public School leaders met on Thursday, as the district was shut down for severe weather and severe staffing shortages, to discuss whether the school system would return to remote learning.

The decision: DPS would be open on Friday, and the district would do everything in its power to keep students in the classroom through the spring semester and beyond, even as COVID cases spike, due to the omicron variant.

“We’re letting the data inform how we go forward,” said DPS spokesperson Will Jones.

The leadership team has been in conversations with Denver Health and other public health officials, and the message is consistent.

“In-person learning is what our kids need, both from a social standpoint, an emotional standpoint, and from an educational standpoint,” Jones said. “So we’re going to do everything we can to keep our doors open.”

One in four people who are being tested for COVID in Denver are getting positive results, which is more than at any other time during the pandemic.

Schools that lack staffing to carry out safe operations have the option of returning to remote learning, and DPS is supportive of those decisions being made on a school-by-school level, officials told Denverite. Sixteen schools are currently operating remotely.

The staffing shortage is brutal — especially when it comes to bus drivers and substitute teachers.

Transportation Services, the department that oversees the bus system, is down nearly a hundred drivers, Jones said. Though the district is trying to incentivize people to apply, offering programs so that inexperienced drivers can earn their commercial driver’s license, people just aren’t applying.

There is also a massive substitute teacher shortage, and DPS is calling on community members, families and others to apply to help out when teachers are sick or quarantining.

“When you’re a school district, we need adults,” Jones said. “We’ve got 90,000 kids who need adults in the buildings. We need people to get them to school. We need people to teach them. We need people to feed them. We need people to keep the building running. We need people to keep the cafeteria open.”

Teachers themselves are among those leaving the field, and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association has asked the district to “go on a temporary move to remote learning,” said Rob Gould, a spokesperson for the union that represents 4,000 teachers.

“We’re saying, ‘Hey, look, we may need to have a pause here – in terms of a district wide pause, if things keep going the way they’re going,” he said.

The DCTA has organized a letter-writing campaign demanding DPS put safety first.

“Conditions in our schools are deteriorating quickly with the Omicron surge,” he explained. “We have a number of schools with staffing issues due to the surge, and we can’t keep asking our educators to do more and more. This is the number one reason they are leaving teaching. With that, we did ask for the district to go on a temporary move to remote learning but if they are not able to do district wide then they need to have some additional components in place, testing, increased spacing for students, hand washing etc.

“Also, we are hoping that the district really makes it more of a site-based decision as the educators within those buildings know what is happening in real time,” he added. “If decisions are made to move to remote, they should be for short durations until we get through the surge.”

Gould said the union wants to ensure teachers aren’t overworked and that students aren’t sacrificed in the district’s plans to find creative solutions to the hiring shortage.

“The last 10 to 20 years in Colorado, we’ve let our school funding go by the wayside,” Gould said. “We’ve neglected it for so long that we’re in these crisis points. Moving forward, we have to think about what do we want our schools to look like. Let’s keep that vision in mind and figure out how to get there.”

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