East Otero School District in southeastern Colorado’s La Junta hasn’t announced a closure over the new coronavirus pandemic — yet.
The approximately 1,350 East Otero students are currently on spring break and scheduled to come back to class Monday.
“We’re going to decide tomorrow looking at everything where our next steps would be,” said Superintendent Rick Lovato. “I would be very surprised if there wasn’t some extension of the break. But right now, in our county, we have no confirmed cases.”
Nearly 100 school districts across the state have already temporarily shuttered in the past week, according to Chalkbeat reporting. Most extended existing spring breaks for another week or two to bide time and prepare for the possibility of remote learning while the state and nation deal with a rapidly evolving global pandemic that has shut down Colorado restaurants, government proceedings, ski resorts and all large, public gatherings.
Colorado’s teacher union called Tuesday for the remaining schools to shut down in the name of public health, estimating that about half of the state’s 178 districts remain open.
“Governor Polis has taken decisive steps to ensure the safety and health of Coloradans by making tough decisions to temporarily close down restaurants, bars, casinos, gyms, breweries and coffeehouses,” said Colorado Education Association President Amie Baca-Oehlert. “Yet there has been no order or recommendation to superintendents to close down Colorado’s public schools for public health and safety as we have seen happen in other states. Today we call on the governor and the superintendents of schools that have yet to close to put the health and safety of students and educators first in order to help stave off this massive public health crisis.”
Larger districts such as Denver Public Schools have extended spring break so officials can figure out potential remote learning options in case schools remain for a longer period of time. Tuesday marked Jeffco’s first day of remote learning.
Lovato said East Otero School District has some online platforms, but ultimately couldn’t commit to teaching remotely.
“We’re not an online school system,” he said. “We can offer some online enrichment resources, but we believe face-to-face is the best way to learn.”
In the event of an extended closure, Lovato said, his district is prepared to feed students and make sure seniors can finish their courses and be able to graduate. The district will discuss its next steps Wednesday.
One thing the La Junta district won’t have to worry about: state testing.
On Tuesday, the Colorado Department of Education announced K-12 state testing and accountability will be canceled for the remainder of the school year so closed schools can focus on teaching during unprecedented times.
“Right now, students, families, and educators need to be focused on doing everything they can to keep families safe and stable,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a CDE news release. “It is clear that COVID-19 will put extraordinary stress on our education system for the coming weeks and months. In order to ensure our schools and educators are able to spend as much time as possible on online instruction in a difficult situation, I support the decision to pause assessments and school accountability for this year only.”
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