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Students at Centennial Elementary School in Harrison School District 2 work on a mathematics problem in this November 2018 photo. D2 and Colorado Springs School District 11 both announced Thursday, March 12, that they will close for two weeks to help slow the spread of COVID-19. [Express photo/Regan Foster/file]

Districts follow El Paso County-wide call to help slow spread of COVID-19

Harrison School District 2 and Colorado Springs School District 11 will both be closed for at least two weeks, starting Monday, March 16. The 14-day halt coincides with pre-scheduled week-long spring breaks.

The decision to shut the doors came in conjunction with other El Paso County districts in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel COVID-19 virus. The districts made the announcement Thursday, the same day the Colorado High School Activities Association announced it would halt all spring sports, practices and activities through early April.

** Related content: CHSAA Suspends springs sports, activities **

“The decision to close our school district was extremely difficult, but it was made out of an abundance of caution and in consultation with superintendents throughout El Paso County,” D11 Superintendent Michael Thomas said in a letter posted on the district website. “We know closing our schools will have a significant impact on our families, but we also believe strong, urgent action must be taken to prevent the spread of this disease and to protect lives.

“We are facing an unprecedented public health crisis in our community.”

You can read Thomas’ statement in its entirety here

The condition, which was first reported in China last month, has swept across the globe, prompting the World Health Organization on Wednesday to declare it a pandemic. Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday declared a state of emergency, allowing him to take measures to slow the spread of the new virus and limit economic disruptions. That came as the number of cases in Colorado reached at least 15.

As of 10 a.m. Friday, March 13, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment reported 49 presumptive cases of COVID-19 in the state. That included both confirmed and indeterminate cases that are being treated as positive.

An additional 390 people have tested as negative for the respiratory illness, the mild symptoms of which can include a runny nose, sore throat, cough, fever and difficulty breathing. In severe cases the illness can lead to pneumonia or breathing difficulties, and has also proven fatal.

In El Paso County, state numbers show, a man in his 40s who recently traveled within the country, has tested positive.

In a letter to District 2 parents, Co-Superintendents Wendy Birhanzel and John Rogerson wrote that there were no reported cases of COVID-19 among students or staff. They encouraged family members to not panic. You can read the entirety of their letter here.

“District staff continues to make plans to deal with the potential impact of the virus on our school system,” the superintendents wrote.

Among the planned actions:

  • The district will disinfect classrooms, high-touch surface areas and commonly used spaces in schools and on buses. It will also conduct “more thorough environmental cleaning on Monday mornings and Wednesday afternoons, that began this week.”
  • Working with community partners and neighboring school districts to finalize emergency operations procedures should schools need to be closed.
  • Receiving regular updates from county officials in an attempt to coordinate potential responses. The calls involve multiple district-level staff, according to the statement.
  • Figuring out alternative learning opportunities for families in the event of absences or school closures.
  • Working with staff to emphasize the use of proper hand washing procedures for all students, staff and visitors, as well as proper respiratory hygiene.

The superintendents also provided some tips for parents, to help keep their students safe. Those included washing hands with soap and water; covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue that is quickly tossed way; staying home if you are sick and keeping sick kids home; avoiding shaking hands, hugging and touching your face; and if you have to call in a sick student and you feel comfortable doing so, providing the school with some information about the types of symptoms you child is exhibiting. The last bit of information will help the district track symptoms and diagnoses in the school, according to the letter.

“The health and safety of our students, staff and visitors will always remain our number one priority as we work with the community to mitigate the impact of challenges created by COVID-19,” Birhanzel and Rogerson wrote.

For updates on the district closures, visit the Harrison School District 2 website , the Colorado Springs School District 11 site or follow each on Facebook and Twitter. Keep watching for updates on this developing story.

Play it safe
The following are some simple steps you can take to help reduce the risk of contracting or spreading the novel COVID-19 virus:
  • Frequently and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. You may also sneeze or cough into your inner elbow or sleeve.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home if you’re sick and keep children home if they are ill.
  • Clean surfaces in your home or office, and personal items such as cell phones, using regular household products.
  • Be calm and prepared. For Federal Emergency Management Agency guidance, click here. To access the Centers for Disease COntrol and Prevention guidelines on preparing your household for COVID-19, click here. The Colorado Division of Environmental Health & Sustainability offers cleaning guidance for COVID-19 in English, in Spanish, in simplified Chinese and in Vietnamese.

Founding Editor and General Manager Regan Foster holds dual bachelor's degrees in journalism and Spanish, with a minor in Latin American studies, from the University of Iowa and a master's degree in journalism with specialization in political reporting and media management from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Over the course of nearly two decades, she has worked and lived in Alaska, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois and Colorado. Before being tasked with launching the Southeast Express, Foster was the youngest person and first woman ever hired to serve as The Pueblo Chieftain's editorial page editor, where she also worked as both the entertainment editor and the Life editor.


Founding Editor and General Manager Regan Foster holds dual bachelor's degrees in journalism and Spanish and a master's degree in journalism with specialization in political reporting and media management.