The Cherry Creek School District has warned families to prepare for possible disruptions to school during the coming weeks, including temporary classroom or whole-school closures due to staff and substitute shortages.
“As we continue back through this new variant, we realized that the contagion rate is much higher than in recent months,” Superintendent Christopher Smith said in a video message sent to families Jan. 4. “So we may have some impacts around staffing shortages in transportation, food and nutrition, and in our classrooms.
“What I’d like you to know is our leadership team, from a district level, is leaning into schools and supporting any way we possibly can,” Smith added.
Day care programs could also be disrupted due to staffing shortages, according to a letter from the superintendent dated Jan. 2.
School resumed on Jan. 4 for the spring semester in Cherry Creek amid a steep spike in new coronavirus cases in Colorado, driven by the more-contagious omicron variant.
The school district told families to prepare for hurdles resulting from staffing and substitute shortages and potential outbreaks of COVID-19 cases in a classroom, grade or school.
“There may be times that students have reduced options or are served bagged lunches if there are not enough staff to prepare hot meals,” the superintendent’s letter said.
Bus transportation may also be disrupted if the district does not have enough drivers — that includes the possibility of route cancellations or significant delays, according to the letter.
“We will do our best to avoid any disruptions in service and will communicate any significant changes as they occur,” the letter continued.
The school district is facing the challenge of operating with a reduced pool of substitutes. Many of the district’s substitute teachers have indicated they do not want to sub at this time, a development the district believes is related to COVID, district spokesperson Abbe Smith said.
So far, Cherry Creek schools have been able to manage by having an “all hands on deck” approach, with central administration staff who have teacher or principal licenses going to into buildings to help out.
“That includes our superintendent, who was out at two elementary schools this week working as a substitute in a classroom,” spokesperson Smith said.
As of Jan. 7, the district said it has not had to close any classrooms or schools or switch to remote learning.
Mask mandate continues; masks available
The Tri-County Health Department has extended its school mask mandate through January, the letter noted. All students and staff must wear a mask when inside school and district buildings.
The mandate applies in Adams and Arapahoe counties. Douglas County now operates under the authority of the Douglas County Health Department regarding countywide public health orders. That new health department has not issued a mask mandate.
Cherry Creek district will continue to help support masking by providing surgical-grade masks to those who need one, the letter said.
Along with the district’s supply of masks, Gov. Jared Polis’ administration is providing surgical-grade masks for teachers, staff and students, the letter added.
“Students and staff can continue using their own masks, but we will have masks for anyone who needs one,” the letter continued.
District changes COVID-19 case notifications
Due to the increasing number of positive COVID cases in the school district, the district will begin notifying families when individual elementary classrooms have a positive case.
“We will no longer notify the entire grade level,” the district said in an email to families.
Regarding that change, spokesperson Smith said: “That way, parents will know specifically the case is in their student’s classroom.”
The email to families continued: “For middle and high schools, we will continue sending weekly case counts each Friday. As always, this data will be posted on the district’s COVID-19 webpage.”
See that webpage here.
Starting around August 2020, the school district sent letters to families of the whole elementary school when there was a COVID case that required any number of students and staff to quarantine.
The district also started last school year by sending case notifications about middle and high schools in real time throughout the week — similar to with elementary schools. But because the middle and high schools are much bigger than elementary schools, the district had to field higher numbers of cases for the higher grades.
At some point last year, the district made the switch to sending the letters once a week on Fridays to middle- and high-school families with a tally of how many positive staff and student cases they had for the week, spokesperson Smith said.
If further action is required for certain families in response to a COVID case, Tri-County Health Department contacts families directly, according to the district’s letters.
“We are notifying you as part of our efforts to be transparent,” the school district’s letters say.
“Since the start of the pandemic, we have made decisions on how best to communicate with families based on the information and conditions at that time,” said Smith, the spokesperson. “We have made adjustments as cases numbers trended upward and back downward and based on new information as we learned more about the virus over time.”
Quarantine, isolation guidance changes
The district also pointed to updated guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about isolation for people who test positive for COVID-19.
“Isolation” refers to the steps a person should take after a confirmed infection, according to the CDC’s website. Quarantine, on the other hand, is when people avoid others after exposure to the virus and wait to see whether sickness occurs.
Under the updated guidance, people with COVID-19 can isolate for five days instead of 10, followed by five days of wearing a mask around other people if they are asymptomatic — meaning if they don’t have symptoms — or have greatly improved symptoms after day 5 of isolation, according to the school district’s letter.
Depending on local public health orders, mask wearing may be required in public in general indoors, regardless of isolation or quarantine, as is the case in Arapahoe County.
In light of the omicron variant’s spread, the “greatest takeaway” for Cherry Creek is: If your child is sick, please keep them home, said Michelle Weinraub, the school district’s chief health officer.
“We know that it is hard sometimes to access a test, whether it’s a rapid test you buy or the PCR tests you wait in your car (for) through COVIDCheck Colorado and other (test) sites,” Weinraub said in the video message. “If they’re sick and you can get an appointment for a test, that’s great — please do that. Otherwise, please keep them home.”
Smith, the superintendent, wrote in the letter: “It is my hope that we can weather the coming surge in omicron cases by keeping schools open for in-person learning as much as possible until this wave passes. You can help us keep schools open by following the best practices … and by keeping your student home from school when they are sick or have any symptoms of illness.”
“We know that this is a difficult time,” Smith said in the video message. “We realize that things aren’t perfect, and we thank you for your patience, and we thank you for your grace.”