What is the most prudent plan for educating students while still facing public health concerns related to COVID-19?

Unfortunately, nobody actually knows. 

There are seemingly as many plans as there are school districts, as administrators across the state scramble to devise strategies that best suit stakeholders and protect students in what many are referring to as the “new normal.”

The Platte Canyon School District 1 recently released its plan for the return of students slated for Aug. 17, and the plan can be reviewed in its entirety at www.plattecanyonschools.org.

The PCSD1 plan was formulated after a district-wide survey indicated that 82 percent of parents within the district felt comfortable returning to in-person learning with few or no restrictions in the fall of 2020.

The district is offering two options: A return to school with a phased structure as “normal as possible,” or a remote learning option that is completely online.

According to the district’s website, and in line with sentiments expressed by PCSD Superintendent Mike Schmidt at a school board meeting in June, it is the district’s strong desire to have students on campus for in-person learning when possible.

“It is the stated desire of members of the Board of Education of Platte Canyon School District 1 to have as many of our students in our buildings, as often as possible, as safely as possible starting with the first day of school, Monday, August 17, 2020,” the site stated.

Additionally, the site stated, PCSD1 supports the American Academy of Pediatricians statement: 

“Schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being and provide our children and adolescents with academic instruction, social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition, physical/speech and mental health therapy, and opportunities for physical activity, among other benefits … all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with the goal of having students physically present in school.” 

The site expressed the district’s understanding that “while the risk of viral transmission can never be totally eliminated, by consistently and strategically applying science-based mitigation strategies, PCSD1 can create an environment in which our students have the greatest chance of enjoying a successful 2020-2021 school year.”

The 14-page electronic document details strategies, principles, guidelines and procedures for the reopening of schools throughout the district. The plan also provided a wealth of information pertaining to transportation, sports, home and school wellness screenings, safe learning spaces, the use of masks, and a variety of other targeted health precautions the district, its staff and its students will be adhering to throughout the school year.

The district will utilize a four-phase plan that changes according to the severity of local health risks at any given time.

“Similar to many rural school districts across Colorado, we will institute social distancing, transmission mitigation measures and health monitoring measures depending on which local Phase (Stay At Home, Safer at Home, Protect Our Neighbors) is in place,” the reopening plan stated.

Notably, all four phases of the plan call for “all students” to “attend all classes every school day.” 

Even though PCSD1 administrators strongly prefer that students return to campus for the purpose of traditional, in-person learning, they do so with the understanding that the reopening of schools for the 2020-21 school year will be anything but normal.

Some of the primary operational principles to be followed by the district while reopening its schools probably sound somewhat familiar today, as everyone has started to get acquainted with an entirely new vocabulary sparked by COVID-19. But clearly, today’s operational principles are virtually unrecognizable from those of just one year ago. 

For example, PCSD1 operational principles include, but are not limited to: “Outside is always safer than inside. Distance is always safer than proximity. Face coverings are very effective. Frequent hand sanitizing is effective.”

It’s probably safe to assume that some of these operational principles were not on the radar prior to the students’ return for the fall 2019 semester, but they are absolutely vital elements of the district’s plan for 2020-21.

In the meantime, PCSD1 students are eagerly preparing for their return to school in less than 10 days. Like teachers and administrators throughout the district, they  too will undoubtedly be busy making day-to-day adjustments to the “new normal.” 

And for the vast majority of PCSD1 students, the new normal will be confronted daily, in-person, on campus, at their respective schools.

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