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Reopening Schools Questions and Answers

Overview

CDPHE and CDE worked together to develop "Reopening Schools: Health Guidance by COVID-19 Phase" to help Local Public Health agencies (LPHAs) and districts as they develop school plans.

The following questions have come up as districts and schools explore the guidance. CDE and CDPHE will continue adding to this list as we receive additional questions.  


What is the number of adults that can interact with high school student cohorts?

The Protect Our Neighbors and Safer at Home phases do not have a limit on the number of adults that may interact with high school student cohorts. The total number of individuals, including teachers and students, should be determined based on the ability to maintain appropriate spacing within the classroom. The total number of individuals, including teachers and students, should be determined based on the ability to maintain appropriate spacing within the classroom.

 

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Can partner cohorts be used at the Safer at Home stage?

Students should remain in their primary classroom with the same cohort of students throughout the week to prevent full school closure if a case is identified. The same staff may alternate during the day between two "partner cohorts," but the students should not mix with other cohorts.

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Can a K-2 building provide in person instruction as normal? If so, are the students allowed to move throughout the building for specials, lunch, recess, etc.?

Stay at Home

Remote learning, except for a limited number of students requiring in-person education due to specific learning needs. Up to three adults rotate per classroom per day with a strict cohort of students. Students should remain in their primary classroom with the same cohort of students throughout the week; staff should remain with the same classroom throughout the week.

Safer at Home

Continue remote instruction if best for your community or;

Up to four adults per classroom per day. So, only 4 teachers should rotate into one specific classroom per day. Students in grades K-5 do not need to meet the 6-foot distance in classrooms or other locations. Normal class sizes may occur. Students should remain in their primary classroom with the same cohort of students throughout the week to prevent full school closure if a case is identified.

Protect Our Neighbors

If strict cohorts cannot occur, some cohorting is better than none. In circumstances where stricter cohorting is not feasible, the greatest practical degree of cohorting should be employed in conjunction with other layered risk reduction strategies.

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Do we have to cohort students?

All guidance provided in this document is intended to help schools decide when and how to open for in-person learning safely; the emphasis placed on cohorts reflects the importance they play in both disease control and facilitating uninterrupted in-person education for as many students as possible. Cohorts are encouraged to reduce contact with others. Cohorts reduce the number of exposed students/staff from a confirmed COVID-19 case and will result in fewer students/staff required to quarantine. There is the ability to do less than what is in the cohort guidance, but be prepared to pivot to full-time remote learning in the situation of a COVID-19 outbreak.

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What do you foresee to be the role of special education teachers and related service providers (speech pathologists) in the cohort model? Do they enter cohorts to work with students or continue to move students from their cohorts for 1:1 or small group instruction elsewhere?

Special service providers need not be included in the teacher-to-classroom ratios. These providers should minimize contact with non-client students and other adults in classrooms. Special service providers may enter cohorts to work with students or they may choose to move students from their cohorts for 1:1 small group instruction, depending on the learning needs of the student(s).

If possible, closely associating special service providers with one or more cohorts will reduce the scale of disruption to learning if a special service provider is identified as a COVID-19 case. 

Special service providers, such as physical therapists and others, who support multiple school settings should follow the same guidance as other special service providers in a singular school setting.

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To better understand cohort guidance, would a cohort size of +/- 150 be okay at high school (six different classes per week with 25 students in each class)?

Safer at Home and Protect Our Neighbors

A firm student gathering number is not given because school classroom sizes differ between and among districts. Schools should determine the appropriate gathering size while working towards 6-foot distance in a classroom. It is understood some adjustments for each school will need to occur. However, the greater the size of the cohort, the greater the number of students/staff that will need to be quarantined in the case of even a single confirmed COVID-19 case.

Schools should carefully weigh the benefits of increased scheduling flexibility of larger cohort sizes against the frequency of disruptions to in person learning that larger cohorts would entail. Given that community transmission of COVID-19 continues throughout Colorado, sporadic cases are likely to occur even in the most well-controlled school settings.

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Would guidance around the cohort size differ depending on how many classes a student attends per day (2 per day over three days, 3 per day over 2 days, etc.)?

Cohort size is dependent on classroom sizes. Schools should determine the appropriate gathering size while working towards 6-foot distance in a classroom. It is understood that some adjustments for each school will need to occur. Within Safer at Home K-5th students do not need to meet the 6-foot distance, and only 4 teachers should rotate into one specific classroom per day; for 6th-8th cohorts should work towards 6-foot distance, and up to 3 teachers should rotate into one specific classroom per day; for 9th - 12th cohorts should work towards 6-foot distance, and there is not a teacher cap that may access the cohort.

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We need more clarity on Cohorts vs. Classes vs. Gatherings. What is the difference?

Cohorts are an identified group of students and staff who only have contact with each other. Secondary cohort sizes (gathering size) may vary because school classroom sizes differ between and among districts. Schools should determine the appropriate gathering size while working towards 6-foot distance in a classroom. Students in a cohort remain together as they access the same classes together.

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What are the parameters for how large those might be, or what the size of the exposure group might be when adults / students change cohorts? (or are you thinking High School for example only stays with 1 group of say 30 kids?)

In Safer at Home the high school cohort should remain in their primary classroom with the same cohort of students throughout the week to prevent full school closure if a case is identified. The same staff may alternate during the day between two "partner cohorts." There is the ability to do less than what is in this guidance, but be prepared to pivot to full-time remote learning in the situation of an outbreak.

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How can a small high school meet graduation requirements and ICAP requirements for individual students and also cohort students? Would we limit course offerings or waive graduation requirements?

The State Board of Education allowed for flexibility for districts for graduation guidelines for the class of 2021.

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How do substitute teachers impact the number of adults that can access a cohort?

Substitute teachers when substituting for a teacher who is absent may access the teacher’s cohort as would the assigned teacher. Substitute teachers need to wear masks/cloth face coverings, and they are encouraged to work towards 6-foot distancing from students and adults, as feasible. Schools should attempt to keep the same substitute teacher with the same cohort during prolonged absences of the primary instructor.

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Can two (2) younger cohorts play outside together and should the equipment be cleaned after each cohort?

Safer at Home (K-5th grade)

Students in K-5 should remain in their primary classroom with the same cohort of students throughout the week to prevent full school closure if a case is identified. This includes indoor and outdoor activities. Playground equipment may be used by the primary cohort of students as long as they wash their hands upon returning into the school. Outdoor equipment does not need to be cleaned or disinfected between cohort use. Indoor gym equipment may be used, if the equipment is disinfected after each group of students' use. Consider staggering recess times for each class/cohort.

Protect Our Neighbors (K-5th)

For students in K-5, if strict cohorts cannot occur, some cohorting is better than none. In the Protect Our Neighbors phase, two (2) cohorts of K-5 students could play outside together. Playground equipment may be used by small groups of students as long as they wash their hands upon returning into the school. Outdoor equipment does not need to be cleaned or disinfected between cohort use. Indoor gym equipment may be used, if the equipment is disinfected after each group of students' use. Consider staggering recess times for each class/cohort.

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Can a cohort consist of multiple grade levels, such as a school campus that includes 7-12th grade students for a total of 53 students? Can the 53 students be considered one (1) cohort?

If a school decides to create a large cohort beyond the standard classroom size, be prepared to pivot to full-time remote learning in the situation of an outbreak. Smaller cohorts are encouraged to reduce contact with others. Smaller cohorts reduce the number of exposed students/staff from a confirmed COVID-19 case and will result in fewer students/staff required to quarantine.

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By allowing four (4) adults to rotate into a classroom, teachers might work with multiple cohorts. If a teacher rotates into four (4) classes that could create an exposure group of approximately 120 students. Can schools choose to have less than four (4) teachers rotate into a classroom?​

Yes. If feasible, schools may choose to reduce the amount of teachers accessing a cohort to reduce contact with others. Safer at Home and Protect Our Neighbors (K-5) allows for up to four (4) teachers per classroom per day. Safer at Home (6-8th) allows for up to three (3) teachers per classroom per day. Protect Our Neighbors (6-8th) does not include a teacher limit.

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If one (1) of the three (3) teachers seeing students in cohorts is exposed are all 3 cohorts to be quarantined?

Yes.

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What is the high school athletic guidance? How will cohorts and activities / athletics work?​

We recognize that school sports and other extracurricular activities are an important part of the school experience for many students. Extracurricular activities, whether conducted within a school setting or in separate club teams, present another context where students may be exposed to COVID-19, potentially leading to disruptions to in-person learning.

CDPHE is developing youth athletics guidance separately from our school guidance to represent the risks of exposure in this different arena. Part of this guidance is a general classification of risk of different athletic activities, from low-contact outdoor activities like cross country to high contact indoor activities like ice hockey.

With regards to the effect of a case on a school sports team on the academic environment, it is important to bear in mind that while a single case who is part of a school cohort and athletic team may lead to quarantine, testing, and exclusion of other members of the athletic team and school cohort, the scale of the exclusion would likely be the size of the team (say 77), plus the size of the cohort (say 30). The entire school would not necessarily need to close unless a large number of cases are identified on the athletic team.

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What is the before and after school program guidance? How will school cohorts and these programs impact cohorts?

There are a variety of before and after school programs, including but not limited to early drop off or late pick up programs, tutoring, and extracurricular activities. Before and after school programs present another context where students may be exposed to COVID-19, potentially leading to disruptions to in-person learning. Before and after school programs within the K-12 school setting should follow the health guidance of the school. 

With regards to the effect of a case on a before/after school program on the academic environment, it is important to bear in mind that while a single case who is part of a school cohort and before/after school program may lead to quarantine, testing, and exclusion of other members of the before/after school program and school cohort, the scale of the exclusion would likely be the size of the before/after school program, plus the size of the classroom cohort. The entire school would not necessarily need to close unless a large number of cases are identified from the before/after school program. 

 

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The Safer at Home 6-8th grade guidance states that up to three (3) teachers should rotate into one specific classroom per day. Does this mean that students would only have exposure to three teachers on one day?​

Yes.

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Are student-teachers considered a part of the total teachers per classroom per day that may access a classroom cohort? 

Student-teachers should be assigned to one mentor teacher in a school and follow that teacher’s schedule.  When student-teachers are in the classroom, they are to wear masks/cloth face coverings and to keep a 6-foot distance from students and staff in the classroom.

 

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But could the 6-8th grade students have exposure to three (3) different teachers another day?

No, this is not recommended. Although there is the ability to do less than what is in this cohort guidance, be prepared to pivot to full-time remote learning in the situation of a COVID-19 outbreak. If instruction from a different group of teachers is planned for a single cohort, attempt to have the changeover between groups of teachers occur over school breaks or other scheduled dismissals (e.g. consider implementing a block schedule).

 

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Interested in guidance on how we conduct drills- fire, tornado, lockdowns?

Here is a link to school fire and evacuation drill guidance (PDF) from the Colorado Department of Public Safety

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Our school district is located in a county, where the county commissioners are not recognizing the Governor's Executive orders. They are also not applying for the designations in those orders. What guidance can the CDPHE or CDE give our school districts on the guidelines we should follow given the limitations placed on our local health officials to provide that essential advice?

The Local Public Health Agency has the authority to enforce requirements in Executive Orders and Public Health Orders. Likewise, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has the authority to enforce requirements in Executive Orders and Public Health Orders. Schools and Districts are strongly encouraged to follow the recommendations provided in the K-12 Education Health Guidance by COVID-19 Phase, and they may do so even if the county commissioners do not recognize the Governor's Executive Orders.

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Should classroom doors be propped open to the outdoors to increase ventilation in the classroom?

Propping doors to which open to unsecured areas outside of the school creates an unsecured learning environment that could result in harm or death to students and staff. Doors to the outside are not to be propped open. Instead consider purchasing individual classroom air conditioning and/or ventilation units using either ESSER or CRF funds. Updated allowable uses guidance for ESSER & CRF funds.

Ventilation Guidance from CDPHE

 

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Are there outlined acceptable standards for HVAC ventilation systems for school buildings with COVID-19? Can smoke-effective HEPA filters help in classrooms?

CDC has outlined general guidance for ventilation systems when used as part of an infection control strategy. While this guidance is directed towards an audience of healthcare facilities, many of the principles are applicable to school settings.

In terms of air filtration mechanisms, the following chart from the CDC may be useful:

Table 5. Filtration methods*

Basic method

Principle of performance

Filtering efficiency

Straining

Particles in the air are larger than the openings between the filter fibers, resulting in gross removal of large particles.

Low

Impingement

Particles collide with filter fibers and remain attached to the filter. Fibers may be coated with adhesive.

Low

Interception

Particles enter into the filter and become entrapped and attached to the filter fibers.

Medium

Diffusion

Small particles, moving in erratic motion, collide with filter fibers and remain attached.

High

Electrostatic

Particles bearing negative electrostatic charge are attracted to the filter with positively charged fibers.

High

Filtration is only one component of an HVAC system, however, and a comprehensive approach to optimizing HVAC systems for infection control should consider direction of air flow, dilution with outdoor air, and other factors.

CDPHE is developing specific guidance for HVAC systems in the context of COVID outside of healthcare settings.

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Is there any possibility that an exception could be made for usage of CRF $ to improve HVAC systems?

ESSER and CRF funds can be used to update the physical building. This is especially important for HVAC systems, which can be updated with MERV 13 filters or higher to reduce the spread of aerosols.

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How can school districts efficiently stay abreast of rolling infection rates?

CDPHE does not expect school districts to stay abreast of rolling infection rates. Instead CDPHE will collaborate with the local public health agency to share this information as it applies to schools and the general public.. School opening phase is determined by the overall phase of the county in which the school operates. Additional information may be found at the CDPHE Data website. 

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What are the metrics to qualify for Stay at Home, Safer at Home, and Protect Our Neighbors phase?

The Protect Our Neighbors criteria may be found here.

Stay at Home is a determination made by the Governor’s Office.

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Can 6th grade follow the K-5 guidelines because they are part of an elementary school (K-6)? 

Some elementary schools are K-6 schools, and they may choose to follow the K-5 guidance to support consistent expectations across the K-6 campus. However, students who are 11 and older are required to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth, unless the student has a health or education reason for not wearing a mask.

 

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Between Safer at Home and Protect Our Neighbors at the 6-8th grade level, it seems that one of the main differences is that masks could be optional if 6-foot physical distancing is implemented… Is that what is intended?

Safer at Home (6 - 8th)

No. Masks/cloth face covering are required to be worn over the nose and mouth for staff and students ages 11 years and older, including during in-person instruction, unless the staff/student has a health or education reason for not wearing a mask. Students do not need to wear masks/cloth face coverings during outdoor recess and exercise activities where appropriate distancing can be maintained.

Protect Our Neighbors (6-12th)

Counties that have been certified under Protect our Neighbor do have the option to "opt out" of the mask Executive Order. Currently, as of July 22, 2020, there are no counties within the Protect Our Neighbors phase.

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When working with students who are deaf or hard of hearing and the staff who support them, do we follow the guidelines from CDPHE that indicates they do not have to wear masks?

 

Full time wearing of cloth masks may not always be a viable option when teaching or supporting students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Face shields or plexiglass barriers may be used as a temporary alternative, if additional precautions are taken, including physical distancing when feasible and strict cohorting.

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Are masks required if maintaining six foot distance in a classroom?

Yes.

Staff:

  • Require face coverings over the nose and mouth for all staff, including during in-person instruction, even if 6-foot distancing in a classroom is met (Additional Guidance) unless they cannot medically tolerate a face covering.

Students:

  • Encourage cloth face coverings over the nose and mouth for students up to age 10 years, except during outdoor recess and exercise activities where appropriate distancing can be maintained, unless the student has a health or education reason for not wearing a mask.
  • Require cloth face coverings over the nose and mouth for students ages 11 years and older, including during in-person instruction unless the student has a health or education reason for not wearing a mask.
  • Masks do not need to be worn during outdoor recess and exercise activities where appropriate distancing can be maintained.

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Can counties in Protect Our Neighbors “opt out” of the executive order requiring masks for ages 11 and older?

Counties that have been certified under Protect our Neighbor have the option to "opt out" of the mask Executive Order. Counties may also seek variances for specific aspects of the Safer At Home order. More information is available here: https://covid19.colorado.gov/protect-our-neighbors

 

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Will medical grade masks be provided by the state to school staff for this school year? I heard 1 N95 per staff member per week?

We are grateful for the Governor’s leadership in this area, and it is one more safety precaution and tool to reopen schools safely. We are working on those details with the Governor's office and will share more later. Because of Colorado’s success in acquiring personal protective equipment (PPE), the Governor announced on July 24th that all K-12 schools will receive one medical grade mask per week per teacher for at least eight weeks. This includes all district public schools, private schools, charter schools, facility schools, and boarding schools. The State Emergency Operations Center (EOC) will contact districts to determine where to send the masks to starting around August 17th. For more information, you can visit the KN95 Masks for Colorado Schools webpage.

 

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Can face shields replace the face masks under the current executive order?

No. Face coverings over the nose and mouth are required for all staff, including during  in-person instruction (Additional Guidance) unless they cannot medically tolerate a face covering. While there is limited data to support face shields as a mechanism preventing transmission of respiratory droplets, this data is not as robust as that for face masks or cloth face coverings. Clear face shields are not expected to be as effective as face masks in controlling disease spread.  (Lindsley WG, Noti JD, Blachere FM, Szalajda JV, Beezhold DH. Efficacy of face shields against cough aerosol droplets from a cough simulator. J Occup Environ Hyg. 2014;11(8):509-518. doi:10.1080/15459624.2013.877591)

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How is medically contraindicated determined? 

The CDC has developed an evolving list of conditions that place individuals at higher risk of severe complications of COVID-19, available here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html. Individuals with these risk factors or who believe they may be at higher risk of severe disease should make an informed decision with their health care provider about learning and employment considerations.

 

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Would CDPHE address concerns of staff who recognize we can "control" the school environment but not the home environment if this increase in exposure to them equates to increased risk?

CDPHE fully recognizes that it is beyond reason to ask schools to control student movement beyond the school day. Limiting interactions, masking and physical distancing are everyone’s responsibility.

Cohorting is required in other settings for children, including child care, but it is not expected that the same cohorts established in schools be maintained in all other settings.

Using cohorts in schools along with a layered approach to transmission controls is one of our best strategies to slow transmission and limit the spread of COVID-19.

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Does the K-12 Education Health Guidance by COVID-19 Phase have capacity caps for in-person learning?

YES: Stay at Home:

Remote learning, except for a limited number of students requiring in-person education due to specific learning needs.

NO: Safer at Home and Protect Our Neighbors:

These two phases do not have capacity caps for in-person learning. Schools should apply the guidance from these phases to determine how many students/staff may return to in-person learning. A firm student gathering number is not given because school classroom sizes differ between and among districts.

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Who declares the phases?

Local public health agencies (LPHAs) may declare the phase for their county/area using the Stay, Safer, and Protect Complete Framework metrics. Note: The Protect Our Neighbors phase requires a request for certification to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for approval. A county may seek to qualify for Protect Our Neighbors by themselves, or voluntarily form a "region" with neighboring counties who choose to submit for a certification together. To enter Protect Our Neighbors, counties must qualify by meeting scientifically established metrics. If a county that has entered Protect Our Neighbors falls out of compliance with any one of the metrics, they have three weeks to implement their containment plan and reestablish compliance.

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Will there be updated projections from CDPHE about projected positive cases statewide and in the metro area from August through December?

CDPHE will be closely monitoring cases statewide for trends. They are already posting much of this on their website and are working on new ways to provide additional information about community spread. Modeling data is also available from the Colorado School of Public Health: https://coloradosph.cuanschutz.edu/resources/covid-19/modeling-results

 

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How long do we need to quarantine a cohort if there is a positive case or exposure within the cohort?

Quarantine is 14 days from the last exposure to a positive case.

Although the layered strategies will reduce cases of COVID-19, CDPHE expects cases and schools will need to follow the public health and disease control strategies. In the absence of these strategies, we risk widespread transmission and an impossibility of safe in-person learning.

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If one cohort needs to be quarantined because of exposure, do we also need to quarantine the cohorts of those students' siblings?

Contacts of contacts do not need to be quarantined per CDPHE and CDC guidelines.

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Our local medical facility and public health agency has told us that contact tracing dictates quarantine, and only those in "close contact" as defined by CDC would need to be quarantined. That seems contradictory to the idea that everyone in a cohort would need to be quarantined.

Classroom and cohort contacts that remain together in the same classroom for up to 7 hours a day will very likely meet the definition of a close contact case within that classroom.

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Has the guidance around close contact and contact tracing changed?

CDPHE is following the lead of their public health partners at CDC. Since the beginning of the pandemic, slight modifications to what constitutes close contact has changed, and are less inclusive now then when they knew very little about the transmission of COVID-19.

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Quarantine guidance says 2-14 days. How is the timeline determined?

Quarantine is 14 full days and has not changed since the beginning of the pandemic. The 2-14 days guideline was provided in reference to whole-school closure if there is an identified case within a school, to allow for contact tracing and quarantine of contacts. However, a school practicing cohorting may not experience a school-wide closure in the event of a case if cohorts are closely maintained and contacts of a case can be identified readily. 

 

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If a school closes due to a COVID-19 outbreak, can either K-2 or K-3 students continue in-person learning, especially if guidelines are followed and if the district is smaller in size?

No. We expect full school closures to be triggered by 5 or more cohorts or classrooms with outbreaks of COVID-19 in schools that are cohorting, or at least 5% of the school population or at least 10 unrelated students or staff test positive for COVID-19 within a 14 day period. These scenarios indicate widespread transmission within the school environment. Full school closures will protect staff, teachers and students when transmission of COVID19 is most likely to occur in a school.

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Is there guidance available for small class sizes under 15 students? Does that change any recommendations?

The recommendations remain the same.

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What is the status of talking with the teacher's union?

CDE has had a long-standing relationship with the Colorado Education Association (CEA) and continues to be in discussions with them. CDE has presented at town halls and attended a teacher union focus group in July to hear concerns and feedback. CDE also meets with the Commissioner’s Teacher’s cabinet to hear their feedback and concerns. A few of the concerns expressed was the desire for staff and students to wear masks and for the state to provide clear safety protocols to districts. The Governor’s Executive Order addressed the mask issue requiring individuals 11 and older to wear a mask/cloth face covering and CDPHE and CDE has also issued this safety guidance on health protocols. CDE will continue to collaborate with CEA’s leadership throughout the pandemic and work to support teachers across the state.

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What is the bus transportation guidance, and is there physical distancing flexibility?

  • Reduce the risk of transmission by limiting capacity of school buses, having household and classroom units sit together, and establishing more frequent and shorter trips.
  • Bus services should follow guidelines developed for public transportation, with the exception that household groups may sit closely together with appropriate distancing between household groups.
  • If physical distancing is not feasible on a bus, all students must wear cloth face coverings over the nose and mouth, unless the student has a health reason for not wearing a mask or if a child is unable to wear a mask safely without supervision.
  • If physical distancing is feasible, encourage cloth face coverings over the nose and mouth for students up to age 10 years, and require cloth face coverings over the nose and mouth for students age 11 years and older, unless the student has a health reason for not wearing a mask or if a child is unable to wear a mask safely without supervision.

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At this point, is the entire state in the Safer At Home phase? Is any area in the Protect Your Neighbors phase?

Currently there are no counties that are certified in Protect our Neighbors (7/22/20).