When students return to schools in Harrison School District 2 on Aug. 17, they’ll be entering a vastly different landscape than the one they left last spring.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, D2 has been forced to make massive alterations to its day-to-day operations, to try to keep students and staff safe. Its most recent plans include options for in-person and remote learning, as well as a hybrid option in case the district must make a sudden shift.
For parents who choose the solely remote or e-learning option, school for their children will be much like it was during the early days of the pandemic in Colorado, with all of their coursework being completed online. They’ll now have a specific daily schedule and receive instruction from the teachers in school whose classes they would have attended.
But for those who return for in-person learning — beginning Aug. 17 for elementary students and Sept. 8 for sixth through 12th grades — a multitude of precautionary measures will be taken to try to preserve the wellness of those who learn and work in HSD2 schools.
When staff members arrive each day, they’ll complete a daily health and temperature check upon entering the building. If a staff member tests positive for COVID-19, the district will report the diagnosis to El Paso County Public Health, which will notify the sick person and impacted school.
If there was a single case, all members of the infected staff member’s cohort — meaning the groups in which students and staff will be placed to reduce the chances of cross-exposure — will need to quarantine for 14 days if symptomatic, and isolate for 10 days if not.
The district will rely on students’ families to perform wellness checks before they send their kids to school, said district Co-superintendent John Rogerson.
For students who might exhibit symptoms or be exposed to the virus, the district is currently working with El Paso County Public Health to secure rapid testing. But really, for anyone who may feel sick or show symptoms of illness, the district’s policy is simple and clear: stay home.
Students will not be penalized for missing school.
Any student or staff who exhibits a high fever, as is commonly associated with COVID-19, must report to a school nurse, and each school has established an isolation room where students exhibiting symptoms will wait until they can be picked up from school.
“We put a lot of guidelines in place from the county health department wherever and whenever possible,” Rogerson said. “We are taking the safety precautions that we can.”
Face masks will be mandatory for all students and staff, and increased hand washing and hand sanitizing will take place throughout school buildings.
The district has N95 masks for staff members to ensure they’re equipped for the start of school, and medical masks to have a backup supply for students who don’t have or forget their own.
For students with unique circumstances or needs that preclude wearing a mask, the district will assess situations on a case-by-case basis. D2 also has secured child-sized face shields for smaller children who cannot handle a mask.
Co-superintendent Wendy Birhanzel said the district’s current plans — which frequently change as new information becomes available regarding the pandemic — are to be overly cautious, and rely heavily on science-based guidance from public health agencies.
“We’re making sure we have safety as our number one method,” Birhanzel said.
As the district saw last spring, when COVID-19 arrived unannounced, flexibility will be key.
“This is the plan for this moment,” Rogerson said, “but we’re prepared to shift however we have to. ... We’re prepared to go to remote learning for all. We’re prepared with a plan in place to still deliver a quality education.”