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Planning in Uncertain Times


  • Planning for restarting the school year may seem like a moving target given the emerging epidemiological data and public health guidelines. CDE recommends establishing contingency plans and leaving many options open, including remote learning and small-group in-person learning.
  • Districts and schools will need to follow any applicable Colorado Executive Orders or Public Health Orders that are in place at the beginning of the school year and any local health requirements existing in local communities.
  • As the epidemiological data changes over time, it is important to plan for a variety of fall learning approaches. We are hopeful that there will be enough data to have more flexible approaches by communities next school year using the Health Guidance by COVID-19 Phase, so please keep that in mind as you read the requirements and guidance.

Decisions about whether in-person instruction is suspended may be made in a variety of ways:

  1. A statewide Executive Order or Public Health Order may suspend in-person instruction (as was the case in the spring of 2020). If an Executive Order or Public Health Order is not in place, then move to #2 below.
  2. Local public health departments may issue a local health order suspending in-person instruction at a site or for an entire district. If a local health order is not in place, then move to #3 below.
  3. A school district, in collaboration with the local health department, may decide to suspend in-person instruction due to the number of cases in the school or community.

Remote, in-person, and physically distanced approaches, as well as rolling starts and stops to in-person learning are provided for district and school considerations as they design their fall opening plans.

  • It may be helpful to start with what we know, what we don’t yet know, and what our communities need from our schools, as we begin our planning.

What We Know:

  • Likely, physical distancing will continue through fall. Pending public health guidelines, instruction will need to be flexible. There may be some on/off remote learning, staggered schedules, health screenings, smaller groups at schools with some students who are more prepared to work from home at home.
  • Likely, 2020-21 will have disruptions where some remote learning will need to be used. CDE, with district feedback, will has developed guidance on what counts as remote learning days.
  • CDPHE has provided the Health Guidance by COVID-19 Phase guidance to provide local public health agencies more flexibility for their communities.
  • Global COVID-19 evidence suggests that younger children play a smaller role in onward transmission of COVID-19. The risk of transmission between young children and from young children to adults is lower, than the risk of transmission between or from older children and adults. The risk to children is likely lower than that of yearly influenza, accounting for both primary disease and Multisystem Inflammatory Disease in Children (MIS-C). This is why preschools and elementary schools should have different guidelines than secondary schools.
  • The risk of transmission between children and from children to adults is low, and the risk of transmission to adults is greater from other adults with either symptomatic or asymptomatic infection. Therefore, the most important limit to classroom size for adults is the number of adults required to be in close proximity.
  • Given the limited role young children likely play in transmission, there likely is minimal benefit relative to the great difficulty of  physical distancing young children within a class to prevent COVID-19 spread. (American Academy of Pediatrics) Moreover, physical distancing has the potential to negatively impact appropriate child development in this age group. Therefore, focus should be placed on other risk mitigation strategies that better complement the learning and socialization goals of children up through 5th grade. In secondary schools there is likely a greater impact of physical distancing on risk reduction of COVID-19. 
  • Cohorting significantly reduces the number of students and staff who will need to be excluded in the event of a case of COVID-19 in a school by limiting the number of close contacts of each individual (all of whom will need to be quarantined up to 14 days if they have close contact with a case). Considerations about the number of close contacts should be included in decisions about transportation and activities as well.
  • For COVID-19, CDPHE has defined a close contact.
  • Protection efforts applied collectively (for example social distancing AND masking AND cohorting) will provide stronger protection than any one effort in isolation as it will reduce the transmission of disease and minimize the disruption to in-person learning.
  • Pending public health guidelines, small-group, in-person instruction may be an option.
  • CDPHE has provided a COVID-19 General Questions and Answers
    • What is a coronavirus, and what is COVID-19?
      • Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Not all coronaviruses are COVID-19.
      • A novel (or new) coronavirus is a strain of virus that has not been previously identified in humans.
      • Rarely, animal coronaviruses can evolve and infect people and then spread between people, such as has been seen with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). These viruses have caused outbreaks internationally and have been known to cause severe illness. Scientists think this is what happened with COVID-19.
      • COVID-19 now is spreading from person to person in many countries and states, including Colorado.
    • How is COVID-19 spread?
      • COVID-19 spreads from person to person and is thought to occur mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory viruses spread.
      • It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
      • For these reasons, people at increased risk of infection are:
      • People who have been to areas where widespread community transmission is occurring.
      • People who had direct close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

What We Don’t Know:

  • The exact timing of when a school or district will be able to have in-person, modified in-person, or remote learning during the school year. CDPHE has provided the Health Guidance by COVID-19 Phase guidance to provide local public health agencies more flexibility for their communities.
  • The specific public health requirements that will be in place throughout fall, winter, and spring.
  • The impact of the reduction in revenue for the state on our education budget.

What We Need Schools to Provide:

While the needs in each community are different, we believe the overarching needs in our state are:

  • Learning (Tier 1, 2 and 3)
  • Food
  • Connection
  • Child care (at least for prek-6)

Questions to Ask When Considering a Policy / Practice Change:

  • Will this change encourage social distancing (students farther away from each other?)
  • Will this discourage cohort mixing? (students remaining in their same cohort for lunch, recess, classes, and other activities?)
  • Will this change improve hygiene practices?