Dear Littleton Public Schools Staff Members and Parents:
I want to provide you with our plans for school in January as well as some important facts we must remember moving forward into the spring semester.
State and national health experts and politicians have been saying recently that students should be in school even as positivity rates continue to increase in our communities. We agree that schools are safe and the COVID transmission rates in schools are low. But, health experts and politicians fail to address the real reason why schools are not open: schools do not have enough staff members available (including substitutes, bus drivers and nutrition services personnel) to come to school every day to support in-person learning. Staff cannot come to school because they have been infected with COVID within the community, have been included in quarantines, or have symptoms of other seasonal illnesses like the common cold and influenza.
LPS students are not in school right now because too many staff members were included in quarantines or were infected from uncontrolled spread in the community.
We have learned that COVID rarely spreads in our schools.
Our experiences with in-person learning since August show us that COVID-19 transmission in schools is not an obstacle to keeping schools open. The transmission rate is vastly lower in our schools than in the community. While Arapahoe County currently is experiencing an eleven percent positivity rate, the current LPS student and staff positivity rates are both well below one percent. Since August, only 3.55 percent of LPS staff and 1.43 percent of LPS students have tested positive. Very few LPS staff members and students have transmitted COVID to each other while at school. But, staff and students DO become infected with COVID outside of school, and every time this happens, healthy staff members and students who were in close contact with an infected person at school must quarantine. In mid-November, the LPS system was so short-staffed we had to switch to remote learning at about the time Arapahoe County hit the 500 case per 100,000 mark. Arapahoe County is currently at nearly 1,000 cases per 100,000.
LPS students are not in school right now because too many staff members are included in quarantines or are getting infected from uncontrolled spread in the community.
The data tells us if quarantines and community spread can be controlled, schools can safely stay open. This is because of our schools’ overlapping health and safety strategies and our ability to enforce these strategies.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recently improved quarantine procedures for schools. New procedures reduce the numbers of healthy staff and students who must be quarantined, reduce the length of time students and staff must be quarantined, and allow quarantined students and staff to return to school faster if they test negative for COVID-19. We are not yet able to implement all of the revised quarantine guidelines; however, we are hopeful that through our partnerships with local health agencies and COVID testing companies we will be provided the resources to implement these new procedures. They will help us keep more healthy staff members and students in school during the spring semester.
Uncontrolled community spread and the resulting quarantines are the biggest obstacles to a return to in-person learning.
We need the Governor’s help to overcome these obstacles.
Governor Polis has publicly said that he believes schools are safe and should be open for in-person learning. We appreciate his support for our efforts, but we need his help to make that happen. LPS and other metro area school districts are working with the Governor and his newly formed Back-To-School Task Force to address the obstacles to in-person learning. We are asking them to:
LPS will return to in-person learning in January using a phased approach
Given what we have learned, the information available to us right now, and our system’s current capacity to support in-person learning with the high transmission in our community, we are committed to bringing students back to school for in-person learning in phases.
Because health experts expect a spike in positive cases and community spread to still be high throughout January, it’s important to return to in-person learning slowly. Frequent switches in learning models are difficult for staff and students. We want to have confidence in our ability to keep enough staff in schools to maintain in-person learning in each phase before we move to the next phase. Tri-County Health is in support of this plan. Phases two, three and four are completely dependent upon our community’s ability to better control spread, to keep quarantines to a minimum and thereby keep LPS staff members available to work in schools every day. If we don’t have enough staff, students cannot return to school.
Phase One – Early Childhood, Elementary and Special Populations at Secondary Level
If we are able to keep enough staff members in preschool and elementary schools and believe the school system can support bringing all staff and students back to middle schools, we will move to Phase Two. If not, we will postpone Phase Two until we can. We will keep you informed as we monitor the data.
TENTATIVE Timeline for Phase Two – Middle School and Special Populations at Secondary Level
If we are able to keep enough staff members in elementary and middle schools and believe the system can support bringing staff and students back to high schools, we will move to Phase Three. If not, we will postpone Phase Three until we can. We will keep you informed as we monitor the data.
TENTATIVE Timeline for Phase Three – High School
At any time, if too many staff members are infected and/or quarantined and are therefore not available to come to work in schools every day, we may need to shift individual schools or entire groups of schools back to remote learning.
TENTATIVE Timeline for Phase Four – Full-time, in-person learning for all
April, 2021 – We are hopeful that later this spring, middle and high school students will be able to return to full-time, in-person learning. Phase Four is completely dependent upon our community’s ability to better control community spread and the availability of vaccines for school-based staff before April.
These plans do not apply to LPS charter schools, and charter schools will communicate their plans directly with their school communities. TOPS will continue uninterrupted as scheduled throughout these phases.
We need the community’s help to get students back in school for in-person learning.
We ask all of you to continue to wear your mask, physically distance, wash your hands and postpone or limit large gatherings with family and friends and unnecessary travel for the next few months. We are grateful for the sacrifices our community members have made since August, which allowed LPS students to experience 12 weeks of in-person learning. This was the best thing we could have done for our students’ well being. We are eager to get our students back in school together.
We are all “COVID fatigued”. But, the more effectively we can control spread in the community, the more LPS staff members will be available to work in schools, and the sooner ALL students can return to in-person learning.
Again, we are so grateful to have had 12 weeks of in-person learning this fall. We know how important it is for students to be together with each other and with their teachers in person. We are eager to see all of your children again face to face! Thank you for your continued support, and best wishes for a healthy and happy holiday season.