Denver Public Schools

FILE PHOTO

Dennver Public School students in middle school and high school will not return to the classroom until at least Nov. 9, Superintendent Susana Cordova said Tuesday night, as cases continue to rise in the metro area.

In a news conference Wednesday morning, Cordova said elementary students will return to school as scheduled next week.

She said it was "a big disappointment"  to pause the return of middle and high schoolers.

Steve Federico, a pediatrician with Denver Health Medical Center who spoke at the news conference, said cases are up among middle and high school students "above a level we've not seen for several months." 

"If we were to open up those age groups, we'd have more cases in our classrooms," he said.

The reopening plan for middle and high school students will be reassessed at the end of October.

Cordova and Federico said they hoped the coming weeks will allow for mitigation efforts to slow the spread of the virus in Denver.

Earlier this week, Mayor Michael Hancock warned the city was at a "make-or-break moment" with the pandemic and that if infection rates weren't slowed, Denver could face increased restrictions.

Cordova said at the news conference that services for students with special needs and for English language learners would still reopen next week. 

“I want to take a moment to assure you that we’re continuing to monitor closely these troubling rises in COVID spread and positivity rates,” Cordova said in a letter to parents, teachers and staff sent Tuesday night.

“As has been the case since March, conditions and guidance change so frequently. What I do know for certain is that all of us in DPS just really want to teach and care for our kids, in our school buildings.”

Though young people generally recover well when infected with the coronavirus, high schoolers are twice as likely to be infected as their younger peers, a health official told the DPS board on Monday.

Minority students, particularly those from the Latino community, are even more likely to become sick.

Federico said DPS and health officials "have to pay attention" to the risks to minority students and their extended families.

DPS is not the only school district in the metro area weighing reopening.

On Tuesday night, the school board for Adams County School District 14 voted to keep its classes online through the end of the calendar year.

The board and superintendent of Westminster Public Schools asked their community to follow public health orders to work to keep schools open.

Once in-person learning for DPS's middle and high school students resumes, it will be limited to priority students (those served by special-education center programs, newcomer centers, and remote learning centers) as DPS is able to provide more space and personal protective equipment to support a safe return to buildings for them, Cordova said.

“We will continue to prioritize health and safety above all else, and we will follow health guidance. That’s been our approach since the pandemic started,” Cordova said in the letter.

“This was not an easy decision to make. Yet given our overriding focus on health and safety and the current COVID conditions and guidance we are receiving, we feel this is the right decision.”

Though elementary schools will reopen, staffing has become a challenge for the district, Cordova said.

Staff members have been told to stay home if they have any symptoms, and the district has provided accommodations for other employees who are at risk of serious infection or have a family member who's at risk.

As a result, Cordova said she and other central office staffers will each spend at least one day a week working in various DPS schools.

She said staffing concerns did not play a role in the decision to keep older students at home.

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Health reporter

Seth Klamann is the health reporter for the Gazette, focused on COVID-19, public health and substance use. He's a Kansas City native and a University of Missouri alum, with stops in Wyoming, Omaha and Milwaukee before moving to Denver.