July 17, 2020
Dear Cottonwood Community,
As you know on Tuesday July 14, the GC voted to start the 2020-21 school year remotely. As we weighed our decision, we recognize that there are four interlocking components of reopening: risks to public health, schools’ importance to economic activity, impacts on students’ learning and thriving, and safeguarding readiness. We listened intently to Mr Binnert and to the comments of our stakeholders as we evaluated CCPS’s readiness including health and safety measures and how it fits to our resources and capabilities across the physical infrastructure, scheduling and staffing, transportation and food service, and health and behavioral policies.
One of the most critical questions every GC and school board is facing is whether reopening schools will lead to a resurgence of infection among students, staff, and the broader community.
Although the risk to students themselves may appear relatively low at the moment, reopening our school will expose our teachers and staff to risk—especially those who are older or immune-compromised—and might contribute to higher risk for the larger community. Teachers who have self-identified as being at a higher risk of developing COVID-19 have already indicated that they are more likely to retire before returning to the classroom before all the safety measures are in place.
In June, Mr Binnert sent out a survey to our community. Through the help of Mr Wang’s analysis, we have data on: our families who have no alternate caregiver and will likely need additional support; the failures and successes of our last semester in terms of remote learning; students who are less likely to have reliable internet service and devices equipped to support remote learning; and on those students with IEPs and 504 plans that make remote learning particularly difficult.
Through teacher feedback, it was clear that starting with a pure remote model will help provide more consistency of instruction within courses and across classes. Trying to juggle being in the classroom as well as online simultaneously is very difficult and more preparation time is required.
Looking forward, we recognize that systems that can consistently deliver remote student services—nutrition, safety, and mental-health support are paramount to providing a high quality education to our students.
We have to consider our school’s ability to create and consistently follow effective health and safety measures to mitigate the risk of infection. Our infrastructure, budget, supply chains, policies, and culture all contribute to our ability to operate safely in a hybrid environment.
We recognize that our crowded classes have less flexibility and that changes to our physical environment, such as no-touch bathrooms or upgraded ventilation, will in large part be unrealistic for our budget—especially given the short time frames involved and the current thinking in the Legislature regarding the CARES Act funding that has been provided to our schools.
CCPS leaders must consider a dizzying array of decisions and there are difficult trade-offs that will be made, using the best and most recent—but still incomplete—available evidence and the knowledge of own resources and constraints. As is the norm for the GC, these decisions involve parents, teachers, and students through surveys, public comments during GC meetings, and through our representative groups like the PAC.
As we and other schools reopen under a different plan in the future, we will confront a new set of challenges including possibly closing schools again in response to public-health needs. None of this work is easy, but the prize—students learning, parents working, a safe community and a virus in retreat—is worth fighting for.
Jill P van Nortwick