D-38 Board to Decide on Plan for Reopening Schools Next Week

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Photo by Amber Wright

The entrance of Palmer Ridge High School.

By Amber Wright, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Dr. K.C. Somers, the superintendent of the Lewis-Palmer School District, expects a detailed update for reopening schools to be released to the community early next week. The D-38 Board will meet on Monday, July 20th to decide on a plan for the school year, with said plan being announced the next day.

“I appreciate how everyone’s being patient with it to the extent that you can be, and also recognizing that there’s just a lot that we’re going to continue to learn and adapt to as the situation evolves,” said Dr. Somers.

Dr. Somers said the intent of the plans is to reopen schools, with as much emphasis on in-person learning as possible, on August 19th. The Bear Truth virtually interviewed Dr. Somers earlier this week, so keep reading to learn more about what is happening within the district now and what is likely to happen.

What part of the decision-making process is the district in right now in regards to reopening schools?

“We have been at work really since the beginning of the summer, so late May and early June. We have collaborative work groups, there’s a combination of stakeholders in D-38 that includes students, parents, teachers, staff members. Those work groups have been meeting on a regular basis since the beginning of summer. We have several recommendations and different versions of a plan that we have been processing through. We are in a position now where we have a board works session next Monday, July 20th, and at that session, we will be shaping an overview and more of a detailed set of recommendations and aspects of that plan with our board, with the intent that the board will review those and give us additional guidance in terms of how we make different decisions built into that, and then we share that plan with the community. I would say by the following day, July 21st, we will have a detailed update that we can provide, that will have a lot more details than what we’ve been able to share so far.”

“We are in close coordination with our local health department, El Paso County Health, as well as other school districts within the Pikes Peak region. We are utilizing health department guidance as well as gleaning what we can from all the different plans that are there and identifying best practices, or at least a starting point of what we envision our practices to be as we’re returning to school…. We have been developing this plan with the intent of returning to in-person instruction as of August 19th, the first day of school. We’re working really hard at that. The other layer to that is that we know there will be students and families in the community that just may not feel comfortable returning, and to that extent, we want to make sure that they are still having their learning needs addressed. We have full online programming options available, so we have circulated that information to students and families. The other layer is closely working with our teachers and staff members because we understand that there are different approaches from a staff mindset in terms of how things will look for them as we return. We want to make sure that we are as attentive to that full continuum of need as we can be as all of this is taking shape.”

Are the plans going before the board favoring completely in-person learning or a hybrid of in-person and remote learning?

“Right now, it is favoring a commitment to as complete of a schedule as we can accomplish to make in-person learning the focal point. That said, we have to also embed contingency plans within that, and so there are some different variations of how that contingency plan toward remote learning would look, and the different mechanisms that would be in place that would trigger us to move from in-person learning to remote. We’re trying as best we can to stay agile and flexible at that, but also provide concrete clarity on what exactly is embedded in that first plan. For example, a big question goes toward the district’s stance on masks…. We’re really trying to incorporate the guidance we’re getting from our partnership with our health departments both at the local and state levels, and making that something that we can implement in ways that don’t create a huge or heavy burden, but at the same time don’t create unmitigated risk when we can take some steps to really be common-sense about that.”

“We’re really going to need a partnership with our community to make sure that we’re all in this together. I want to be very clear that we do not want to impose a plan on our community, but rather that we continue to work to review and refine it in ways that there’s the ability for us to practically implement it in ways that prioritize what we’re after. We’ve spelled out some principles in the initial plan that we set forth, or at least the framework of the plan. So obviously the health, the safety, and the wellbeing of our students and staff and our community is one of those big drivers. We have to drive toward high-quality learning, support for each individual student’s academic success, we need to prioritize mental health supports, as well as social/emotional learning supports. We have to make sure that our staff is receiving the support and resources that they need. We need to plan for the multiple contingencies that I mentioned earlier, and we need to do that collaboratively, and we need to do that in a process that continuously monitors and evaluates what’s working in the plan, and if there are things that aren’t, how are we responding to that, and making sure that we embed revisions and improvements as we go forward as well. It’s a pretty monumental task, but we have a lot of really dedicated and concerned individuals that are doing everything that we can to make it the best possible plan that it can be.”

“We’re going into the fall with optimism and a positive outlook, but also with a sense of realism of it’s not if something weird is going to happen, it’s when something weird is going to happen. I think that, if anything, that’s what this whole situation has taught us. There are things that we just have to prepare for as best we can, but you can’t prepare for every possible situation because there are things that you just don’t know at the time…. One day at a time. Make the best decisions that we can based on the information we have.”

Dr. Somers went on to say about the plan: “As educators, we’re not trying to create a prison-like type of situation where there’s no room to make a mistake and learn from it, and then work to correct it…  We’ll do the best we can within this next version of the plan to spell a lot of that out, so there’s more focus on why we’re taking some of those stances, what those stances are, and how that actually gets implemented in the classroom. Part of what our staff is working to develop and make sure that we have good routines and procedures that we can implement with consistency…”

Has the board started giving thought to what sports will look like this year?

“Throughout the summer we’ve had summer workouts and training opportunities for different sports. We’ve been able to make that decision at a local level. What’s been encouraging about that is we get our kids back into the mix of what is more normal. I know that’s one of the big things that we’re trying to strive for: not keeping it normal, but more normalcy, if that makes sense. Making sure that our kids have as much access to those opportunities as possible so that we’re not taking anything away… I think that’s a prevailing philosophy at both the state and the local level, is how we make sure that we’re fundamentally doing everything we can to keep those activities, those options, those opportunities as fully accessible as possible.”

“When it comes to athletics specifically, and really any activity that’s governed by CHSAA (Colorado High School Activities Association), we are still waiting for what exactly their guidance around sponsored activities will look like. I know they’ve been hard at work at figuring out that fall plan and what does that look like throughout the course of the school year… We’re hopeful, we’re optimistic that we’ll be able to do things around protecting those opportunities and students’ access to that, but we’re still waiting on more of those details, and I do think it’s fair to say that we know there’s going to be some adjustments or some different elements as to how all that takes place that we’ll have to adhere to. At the same time, we just want to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can to commit to the health and safety and wellbeing of our students in that space as well as everybody involved. More to come, we’ll see where CHSAA lands probably in the next couple weeks. As soon as we know more of what that looks like, we’ll be in communication and share that understanding with our community.”