Gov. Polis Provides Update on COVID-19 & Discusses In-Person Learning

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

DENVER - Governor Polis and the State of Colorado released the “Roadmap to In-Person Learning,” a report detailing research around the importance of in-person learning, and strategies and tactics the State is taking to assist with safe, consistent in-person learning at P-12 schools this semester. The Governor was joined by Dr. Katy Anthes, Commissioner of Education, Rebecca Holmes and Heath Harmon, Co-Chairs of the “Back-to-School Working Group.” 

“The best investment we can make in the future of our state is in our children and their education. I am committed to ensuring that our children’s education and well-being is not a casualty of this pandemic. Using data, science and transparency, we have identified action steps in key areas that will enable us to open schools safely for in person education while prioritizing the health of students and staff,” said Governor Jared Polis. “Getting all students back to safe and consistent in-person learning is critical to our future and it’s going to take all of us to ensure Colorado kids can safely return to school. It’s not just on our educators and school staff to be safe, but also on students, parents and entire communities to be responsible to save lives and help schools return by wearing masks and avoiding social gatherings."

The “Roadmap to In-Person Learning” report was informed by the “Back-to-School Working Group,” a diverse group of stakeholders including parents, educators, school leaders, and public health experts. The group met over the past three weeks to discuss best practices and actions the state can take to help students get back to in-person learning as soon as safely possible. Governor Polis also released two cover letters -- one for parents and one for educators and school staff

Despite educators’ important efforts to educate students, research shows that academic and social emotional development is suffering. These challenges are greater for students with disabilities, students who are low-income, English language learners, students without access to the internet, and students experiencing homelessness or in foster care. It has also had negative mental health impacts and posed a significant risk to the economy. 

Using data, science and transparency, this report lays out a number of action steps the State will be taking to help all students return to in-person learning this semester. This includes: 

  • Increasing trust and transparency through: 

    • Regular communication with school districts, educators, and parents about disease transmission, emerging resources, and best practices. 

    • Encouraging counties to commit to prioritize in-person learning by considering suspending in-person extracurricular and recreational activities that interfere with cohorting once a county reaches Orange, Red, or Purple on the Dial. 

    • Ensuring in-person, school sponsored activities such as athletics, music, art, and theatre should only occur once full time or hybrid in-person learning is successfully occurring with minimal disruptions. 

    • Providing school data dashboards that are publicly available to ensure public health case and outbreak data is fully transparent and accessible to the public. 

    • Encouraging school districts and schools to prioritize full-time in-person education for the most vulnerable groups, including students with disabilities, students who are low-income, English language learners, students without access to the internet, students experiencing homelessness or in foster care, and children of frontline workers.

  • Preventing and protecting students, families, educators, and staff through: 

    • Continuing to support the CDC, CDPHE, and CDE strong recommendation for all children over the age of 3 to wear a mask. 

    • Because teaching requires constant talking, some educators may prefer a surgical or cloth mask instead of a KN95 mask. The state can continue to provide high quality medical, surgical, or other masks as appropriate for teachers, in-school health care providers, and other members of the school community for different operational or educational needs.

    • Creating evidence-based protocols and supplementary resources for schools to implement symptom screening in the home setting, as recommended by the CDC as well as strategies for in-school screening when home screening is incomplete.

    • Supporting effective cohorting models and protocols to minimize classroom disruptions, and continue to research more effective ways to minimize disruptions from qurantines. 

    • Supporting additional staffing to ensure schools can operate during staff quarantine periods. 

    • Creating resources and tools to improve ventilation in learning spaces including the use of outdoor spaces and outside facing windows remaining open in classrooms.

    • Encouraging hand washing hygiene, cleaning, and disinfecting with appropriate products known to be effective against SARS-CoV-2.

    • Supporting effective models for physical distancing in classrooms.

  • Increasing access to testing and vaccines through: 

    • Continuing to provide resources for testing, particularly in the highest viral prevalence communities such as those counties in Red or Purple, as well as those that have greater challenges in accessing testing. This should include offering regular screening for educators and staff interested, for symptomatic individuals that need a diagnostic test, and for individuals who do not have symptoms but have been quarantined after an exposure. 

    • Supporting additional capacity for contact tracing for schools, which may include contact tracing resources at the State level. 

    • Promoting partnerships between the medical and public health community and school districts to help not just provide testing materials, but also the personnel to administer and manage testing programs and contact tracing when positive cases are identified. Facilitate access to in-person or virtual medical evaluation for ill students, teachers, and staff. 

    • Continuing to prioritize educators and school staff in the phased vaccination prioritization. 

    • Providing clear messaging on the vaccine and its safety, effectiveness, and importance to our return to normalcy, including sharing talking points for schools to share with parents and their communities. This messaging should be in Spanish and other languages common in Colorado.

Watch today’s press conference