Casey Van Divier
Six months ago, John Ford wouldn’t have believed that one day, the entire district would transfer all schools to temporary online learning, said Ford, a Jeffco parent and president of teachers union Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA).
But as COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has spread across Colorado — with more than 100 cases in Colorado as of March 14, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment— Jeffco Public Schools has closed school buildings the week of March 16.
According to a Jeffco media release, the district will transition to a remote learning plan March 16 through April 17, during which students will receive online instruction at home. The learning plan will be on hiatus March 23 through 27, during Jeffco's regularly scheduled Spring Break.
On Monday, March 16, “we will allow families to drop in to quickly pick up any items they may have left at the school such as supplies, medication, and technology during normal school hours,” the release said.
Students will have the day off Monday, March 16 for a teacher work day to prepare to implement online instruction and assignments. By March 17, individual schools will communicate the specifics of their remote learning plans, a district statement said.
The statement also outlined important steps for students to take, including reaching out to their school if their home does not have internet access and setting up a designated learning space at home.
The district also asked students to be sure that they have their 1:1 devices — school-issued laptops or tablets — at home by March 17. Not all grades receive 1:1 devices, prompting schools to check out devices to remaining students for the week.
Figuring out the challenges
For Ford and fellow educators, “the vast majority can get this work done without a whole lot of stress," he said of the remote learning transition.
"Jeffco for a long time has had teachers who have been doing blended learning,” meaning they incorporate in-person and online learning, he said. Even so, “it is going to be difficult."
The JCEA is working to ensure that as long as remote learning continues, students will have access to the tools they need, Ford said.
“We’re going to do our best to have an emotional foundation for mental health and stress, not only for the teachers and students, but for the community as a whole,” he said. “We know there’s going to be inequities in the process. Some populations don’t have access to the internet, but we’re willing to try to work on those (inequities) the best that we can.”
Even with the right device and access to the internet, online learning could be a significant adjustment, said Nicole Dominic, whose daughter attends Mountain Phoenix Community School in Wheat Ridge.
At the school, “we don’t really do anything online,” she said, “so I think this is going to be difficult for everybody.”
Danielle Piper, whose two children also attend Jeffco elementary and middle schools, said she expects some instructional time to be lost because of the unfamiliar structure.
“I don’t think it’s going to be like a regular school day for them. I think the best we can ask for is they get a couple hours every day of online learning,” she said.
But she believes the online plan is likely the safest and best available.
“My kids and I are in the demographic that’s not as high risk, but we can still carry it and spread it to those in higher risk demographics,” she said. “We need to start flattening the curve and containing the contagion. It’s everyone’s responsibility to figure out.”
Other potential challenges of the pandemic for parents and students are a loss of income and the need for childcare, Dominic said. Though the freelance home-stager hasn’t had any clients cancel on her yet, “it just feels scary. This is our busiest time for home sales,” she said. “We’re all worried of losing income.”
However, these challenges are exactly what’s brought her community in the Applewood area together, she added.
“Everyone’s helping, everyone’s offering to take kids in during the day,” she said. “We have a lot of elderly neighbors, too, so there’s meal trains happening and we’re asking if we can go shopping for them.”
Jeffco parent Katie Winner also said she has seen numerous online efforts to ensure food security for families, particularly hourly workers who will not have an income if they are asked not to come into work. She pointed to groups like the Action Center in Lakewood, 8755 W. 14th Ave., which is hosting a food drive March 15 from 1 to 5 p.m.
Additionally, during the online learning period, children up to age 18 can pick up free meals from Jeffco Public Schools at one of the district's Grab and Go meal sites. Meals will be served from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Sites include Arvada K-8, Colorow Elementary, Edgewater Elementary, Foothills Elementary, Lasley Elementary, Parr Elementary and Conifer High School.
Despite potential difficulties of school closures and online learning, Winner, Ford, Piper and Dominic agreed that the school district’s decision reflects it is prioritizing safety.
“Jeffco Schools made a really tough decision to keep communities safe. I feel for seniors canceling proms and musicals and sports, but it’s an unprecedented time,” Winner said. “We’ll figure out how we can get those moments back.”