Back to School in 2020

The question of homeschool versus public education used to be a mock argument students would have in debate class.

This fall, it is a far more serious issue for our community. Though back-to-school 2020 is complicated, the reason for this year’s education reform is simple—COVID-19.

In March, school districts, daycares, and universities started closing one-by-one as the number of corona virus cases increased in the state and the nation. After a few weeks of adjustment, all education institutions in El Paso county decided that the remainder of the school year would be held virtually.

It wasn’t long after that decision that a state-wide shutdown was mandated. Parents found themselves as the teachers for their children, college students came home, and most were able to muddle through the rest of the semester.

It was an unspoken hope that the world would return to normal by the fall and this pesky pandemic would be solved before 2021. As the months wore on, that hope dwindled into further uncertainty.

Now that fall is upon us, educators and administrators must determine the best and safest method for education this school year. It has probably been several years since so many school districts, parents/caretakers, universities, agencies, policy makers, and the public concerned themselves with education.

There is concern among agencies and policy makers that education systems may lose funding or potentially fail entirely if they are not able to open this fall. Examples of these concerns, and how institutions are responding to COVID-19 can be found within the following early education programs, school districts, and universities/colleges.  

According to Alliance for Kids (an organization that works collaboratively for a seamless system of care for young children and their families in El Paso County), there are currently 31 programs whose status remain “unknown”—meaning it is unknown whether those programs are temporarily closed with intent to reopen in the fall, or permanently closed. If those 31 programs all remain closed, that is a 9% loss of all child care in El Paso county. For context, in a survey conducted by Alliance for Kids with 2,000 responses, 48% of families stated they will need early care and education (prenatal to 3rd grade) in the fall and 50% of respondents also stated they will not be able to work without early care and education.

An example of early childcare response to COVID-19 can be found in HFMN’s community partner, Community Partnership for Child Development (CPCD). CPCD is a preschool program that offers educational, physical/behavioral health, and nutrition services to children three to five years of age, as well as services to pregnant women and children from birth to three years old and they are currently offering virtual classrooms with plans to reopen on September 14th. Once they do reopen, they will require all staff and parents who enter classrooms wear a face mask and recommends that children over the age of three wear face coverings also. CPCD intends to check temperatures of staff and children daily, classrooms will be limited to a maximum of ten children, teachers will do their best to enforce social distancing measures, soft toys and items will be removed, and students will no longer be served meals family-style. Hand-washing and sanitizing efforts will be practiced several times each day, limiting potential exposure to the virus and other germs.

Meanwhile, several school districts have pushed back their start dates and altered the delivery of instruction.

Colorado Springs School District 11 (Colorado Springs’ largest school district) is postponing their start date until August 24th. In D11’s case, they will be following a hybrid model of learning for the first quarter of the school year. In October, they will reassess and determine if it is best to continue the hybrid model or whether it’s feasible to return to in-person learning. Thanks to the CARES Act stimulus funding, D11 is providing devices (iPads, Chromebooks and laptops) to every student—so online learning does not have to be a financial worry for families.

Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 committed to opening on August 17th, staggering students by grade level during the week of August 17-21st. Overall, D8 is actively focused on implementing a secure, in-person learning environment. Even so, the District is providing online options (i.e. K-12 Fountain-Fort Carson Virtual Academy) for families who are not comfortable returning to in-person or have medical concerns. This program intends to be more immersive, comprehensive and engaging than the remote learning semester of spring 2020. The District is also prepared to close in-person classes should an outbreak occur, returning to remote learning.  

Harrison School District 2 is implementing a combination of efforts reflected in the plans established by D11 and D8. They are allowing families to choose between in-person, completely virtual, or hybrid learning formats. Consequently, they have a more complex timeline, dependent upon the families’ preference.

  • August 17th:
    • K-5th grade in-person/e-learning starts
    • 6-12th grade remote learning starts
    • 6-12 center-based special populations in-person instruction starts
  • September 8th:
    • 6-12th grades start in-person instruction (hybrid model)

D2 requires face coverings for all staff and students, frequent handwashing, and will return to fully virtual learning should an outbreak occur.

Academy School District 20 delayed their start date to August 24th and are offering a myriad of learning choices for families this fall. Not only are they providing 100% in-person classes with COVID-19 modifications, D20 also offers hybrid, completely virtual learning, and synchronous learning—where students attend classes in real-time virtually (essentially in-person classes, at home). As of August 11th, the District made a change to their return-to-school plan, that students in 6th-12th grade will all start school remotely, hoping to return to in-person on September 14th.

On the higher education level, University of Colorado Colorado Springs is offering an expanded range of course formats including in-person, hybrid, and online.

Though UCCS is seeing a decrease in enrollment numbers, the fall semester has more registered students than the university expected (25% decrease projected; 6-9% decrease actual). UCCS is maintaining adaptable and flexible measures for the fall semester, realizing that in this pandemic they may have to adjust protocols at a moment’s notice (for example: VA benefits remain the same if classes are switched to remote learning at any point during the semester).

As for safety and social distancing, staff in offices are limited to 50%, face coverings and shields are required, temperature checks are frequently conducted, in-person campus sponsored events are limited to 50 people, and COVID-19 tests are available for students in the Wellness Center. UCCS also requires COVID-19 Skillsoft training to all faculty, staff and students, before they return to campus.

At Pikes Peak Community College, most classes have transitioned to completely online in response to COVID-19. The college is still offering in-person options, but all lecture classes will be taught virtually. PPCC states they are prioritizing the overall success of each student and encourages those uncertain this fall to reach out to instructors and staff to create a personalized solution.

Through CSU Pueblo’s “Protecting the Pack” initiative, the university will primarily hold smaller, in-person classes from August 24th until November although hybrid and remote learning styles are available. From fall break on, the students will complete their courses remotely and take final exams online as well. Like other universities, CSU Pueblo has redesigned their campus guidelines to promote social distancing and requires face masks at all times (apart from eating or drinking) while on campus.

When examining the various opinions and methods for learning this fall, one thing is clear. Back-to-school 2020 plans vary significantly in each individual or family. Education systems are doing their best to ensure everyone’s comfort level is met and understood so that no family, child, or student have to compromise their education because of this virus.

At Home Front Military Network, we assist military members, veterans, and their families. That means we are invested in education and collaboratively work with multiple community partners and organizations to best support our clients. If you or a loved one are uncertain about school this fall, please contact one of our case managers at 719-577-7417 or via email at info@homefrontmilitarynetwork.org. We can help!

For more information/resources on the programs, schools and universities discussed—please click on the following links.

Alliance for Kids

CPCD Head Start

Colorado Springs School District 11

Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8

Harrison School District 2

Academy School District 20

University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS)

Pikes Peak Community College

CSU Pueblo

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