The lights are on, but nobody’s home

BVSD’s decisions on remote learning differ from neighboring districts


Science teacher Courtney Van der Linden talks to students in a hybrid classroom on the first day of in-person learning.

There are countless necessary precautions in order for a school district to return back to in person learning. Classes must be split and masks must be worn and enough students and teachers must be willing to face the risk of meeting in person.

While Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) stuck to online learning for the beginning of the first semester, neighboring districts, such as Westminster Public Schools (WPS), made the decision to return full time right away.

Ryan McCoy, the school board president of WPS, said his district planned and prepared for the upcoming semester beginning last spring.

“During the month of May, the Board of Education and district administration began developing plans for our fall return. Our decisions and plans were heavily influenced by recommendations from the CDC, Tri-County health and the Governor’s Office. In addition, WPS conducted a number of surveys, where we sought input from community members, parents/guardians and staff/faculty,” he said.

Though the risk was large, Westminster Public School District recognized that the majority of their students needed the support of in-person learning to successfully continue their education.
The district implemented a number of methods to reduce cases within schools, such as having all students wear masks, mandatory sanitation, and being prepared to return to online learning at any time.

“We followed and implemented criteria that was set forth by CDC, Tri-County and the Governor’s Office,” McCoy said. “It should be noted that some schools’ safety protocols may differ based on the number of students in a building and the school’s actual physical space.”

While BVSD also tried to be ready for in-person learning in August, an unexpected problem arose.

“We had about 300 employees apply for exemptions,” BVSD Chief Communications Officer Randy Barber said. “I think the most important thing to know is at that point, looking at how many students we had planned to return, we didn’t have enough staff.”
Because teachers weren’t deemed essential workers by the state, Barber explained that they were able to file for exemptions if they could prove they were at a high risk for COVID-19.

Without a large enough staff to serve inside schools, in-person learning had to be delayed.

BVSD decided to start small, beginning with K-2 students, special education, and some boulder tech students returning to schools. As flu season approaches, as well, they recognize the fluctuated risk of students, staff members, and associated family members falling unwell.

As small groups of students begin to return, the district will keep at close eye on cases both in Boulder Valley and in neighboring districts, such as Westminster.

“I think that one of the big things that we’d want high school students to know is that we care deeply about our students,” Barber said. “We know that our students are really building their foundation for learning right now. High school students have different challenges and different issues that are also very important.”

Now that BVSD has returned in-person on a limited basis, safety measures such as being in cohorts, wearing masks, and having block classes have been put in place to ensure that everyone stays as healthy as possible. The district hopes to maintain a healthy environment for everyone involved.

“Our goal is to have students come back and we’re excited about the idea of outdoor learning. For that reason, but we’re not stopping there that will continue to work forward in that,” Barber said. “The goal is coming back and having us all back together again.”