Denver parents feel hoodwinked as 4 high schools delay in-person classes

Denver Public Schools parents are angry that the in-person instruction they expected to start this month has been delayed until at least next semester.

At least four Denver high schools have opted to conduct classes remotely through December, satisfying face-to-face instruction requirements by offering two-hour blocks when students may come to a classroom for social-emotional learning or individual help. For months, parents say, they were led to believe their kids would return physically to school, if only part time on a hybrid schedule, and now they worry their kids will be left behind.

“Parents have been lied to, basically, by the school district,” said Krista Douglass, whose daughter Mira Williams auditioned for and was accepted to the Denver School of the Arts in January, before the coronavirus pandemic upended the academic year.

Though DSA has yet to finalize student schedules for the second quarter, Williams has been told she may only be coming to school to take piano lessons for two hours each Friday afternoon. The freshman expects the rest of her classes to be online.

That’s something Douglass, whose other high schooler goes to private school, wishes she had known before committing to enroll in DPS.

“We got a letter, I want to say a week and half ago, from the principal saying they would guarantee 10 hours of in-person instruction, and now we’re getting maybe two,” Douglass said. “All I know is most of the school districts around Denver are managing to find a way to be hybrid, and Denver really isn’t.”

DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova has repeatedly said the district’s goal is to get kids physically back in school when it is safe to do so. That appears to align with most parents’ preferences: districtwide 70% of elementary families enrolled to attend in person, as did 56% of secondary families, she said.

DPS does have guardrails for schools to be able to reopen. Cohorts cannot exceed 35 students, and teachers can interact with a maximum of two cohorts, Cordova said. Secondary schools, which can open Oct. 21, are expected to operate on a hybrid schedule with a minimum of 10 hours of face-to-face instruction.

But much like the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment left reopening logistics for districts to decide, the state’s largest education system gave individual schools autonomy to figure out how best to implement a return to in-person learning. Every school is unique and trying to manage a web of challenges, from cohorting students to accommodating teachers who applied to work remotely, said Michael Ramirez, deputy superintendent of schools.

Those issues are compounded at the secondary level, where students are accustomed to taking different classes from different teachers throughout the day.

“Our (school) leaders are looking at what kind of schedule they can create that adheres first and foremost to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff, as they’re building out whatever they think is best for their schools,” Ramirez said.

He emphasized that all secondary institutions are providing in-person learning according to the district’s standards. However, Denver South High School parents like Erica Spoor say their kids’ hybrid schedule is not what they expected, especially compared to those implemented by other metro-area districts.

The district is not tracking individual schools’ return to in-person learning, district spokeswoman Winna Maclaren said, so it’s unclear how many students may not have the opportunity for face-to-face instruction.

In a note to families, South leaders said the school will continue its remote learning schedule through Dec. 18, though students who enrolled for in-person learning have the option to come for two hours each school day for academic or social-emotional support. George Washington High School and Abraham Lincoln High School are also following this format.

“I was expecting there to be restrictions we’d have to adhere to and commitments we’d have to make to be safely back in person, but I was expecting there to be live instruction of their core classes,” said Spoor, who has a freshman and a junior at South. “It was made even more confusing when we saw other schools in same district, like East, release a different plan.”

Ramirez said the number of families who requested in-person versus online learning also varies building to building and plays into how they make schedules. At Denver School of the Arts, 54% of families requested in-person classes, according to district figures, whereas at South the figure was 66%.

Of the Denver high schools The Denver Post has confirmed are sticking with a largely remote plan, only Abraham Lincoln had more families opt for virtual learning (58%) rather than in-person, according to DPS.

David Foster, whose son is a freshman at South, believes the variance in formats will lead to educational disparities among students in the district, especially for those who may not be able to travel to and from school for a couple hours per day.

Douglass agrees, which is why she’s considering pulling her daughter from DPS, which is already facing lower enrollment, in the spring.

“Obviously they’re going to be disadvantaged in some of those ways,” Foster said. “That begins to ask the question, how long do you continue to have faith in your school district to be putting in-person learning at the forefront of what it is that they’re trying to achieve?”

Source: Read Full Article