In an interview with Washington Post Live, Gov. Jared Polis said Colorado school districts and teachers should work together to resume in-person instruction.
“The school districts that have been successful in returning to in-person instruction, many since the beginning of the year, have strong partnerships with their unions and their boards,” Polis said. “I would encourage dialogue on both sides … Teachers should work with their district about the goal of getting back so that students can have in-person instruction.”
“We have a number of success stories in our state, and we also have districts that have done very little in-person this year,” he added.
Polis joined Washington Post national political reporter Robert Costa for a Nov. 19 episode of the Post Live series Coronavirus: Leadership During Crisis. Past episodes have featured guests including New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Polis’ call for schools to continue in-person instruction for preschool through fifth-grade students is nothing new. At a briefing Nov. 17, Polis encouraged schools to “continue learning in person or restart if the districts have taken a hiatus.”
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recently revised its dial system, used to determine levels of public health restrictions based on COVID-19 metrics, to recommend in-person instruction for kindergarten, pre-kindergarten and elementary school students for counties in the “red level.”
Until recently, red-level counties were recommended to conduct preschool through fifth-grade classes remotely with very limited in-person instruction allowed. Based on the revised guidance, the 15 counties moving to the red level on Nov. 20 won’t be required or encouraged to close schools.
But districts such as Denver Public Schools have cited staffing shortages as part of the calculation preventing them from keeping schools open while the pandemic rages across Colorado. DPS, the state’s largest district, announced it would shift all K-12 classes, including special education, to remote learning starting Nov. 30.
“The cases in our schools reflect what we see in the Denver community,” DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova wrote in a Nov. 18 letter to parents. “In September, we were seeing about 13 cases per week when we first opened up (early childhood education) centers. We are now seeing over 300 cases per week. This deeply challenges our ability to operate our schools. And we’ve already had to close many schools because we lack the staff to run them, due to required quarantines and the shortage of available substitutes.”
Polis’ appearance on Washington Post Live came at a time when the state is facing the highest numbers of hospitalizations and cases it has seen at any point in the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of Nov. 18, 1,428 people were hospitalized in the state with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and an additional 165 with suspected cases. Of the hospitals reporting data to CDPHE, 31% expect staff shortages and 13% expect intensive care bed shortages within the next week.
An average of 4,628 new cases have been reported each day from Nov. 11 through Nov. 17.
Polis said the state was forced to close restaurants and bars and limit capacity in some counties to try to reduce the virus’ spread, because it doesn’t have as much ability to enforce restrictions on personal gatherings, which have been tied to the rise in cases.
“We’re trying to send a message, ‘Please stick with your own household,'” he told Costa. “In terms of what people do in their own personal lives, it’s a matter of personal responsibility.”
During the interview, Polis also discussed his $1.3 billion stimulus proposal for Colorado — part of which, he said, will be the topic of a legislative special session he has said will convene before the regular session starts in January.
Polis told Costa that during the special session, lawmakers will determine how to allocate around $200 million to $400 million for one-time economic stimulus programs to lessen the pandemic’s financial impact on individuals and businesses.
On the agenda: Assistance for restaurants and bars, plus “rental assistance, child care help — those sorts of things that simply can’t wait until the federal government gets their act together, which we hope occurs sooner rather than later,” Polis said.
Polis also called on the federal government to step up its pandemic response, saying that certain necessities such as a national testing surge and vaccine distribution can’t wait for Joe Biden to take office.
“There’s a lot of work ahead,” he told Costa. “It’s going to be a long 60 days till we can have the honor of being able to work with an administration that will value professionalism and competence more than the current one.”