“I didn’t always feel safe when we were in person,” said Henzer, an art teacher at Park Elementary School. “Now that our county is exponentially going up in positivity with COVID, I do feel safer at home. But it’s with a heavy heart because I miss my kiddos.”
Chris Peterson, who teaches eighth-grade social studies at Northglenn Middle, said he’s been comfortable with the decisions at his district, Adams 12 Five Star Schools. But he believes county and state governments could be doing more for schools.
“When I look across the state, every district is in a different place. And that continuity that could come from health departments, county governments or state governments just isn’t there.”
Gov. Jared Polis has put together a task force of teachers, superintendents, health officials and parents that meet at least once a week to help plan for schools to return to classrooms. But it’s still up in the air whether districts that are remote through 2020 will return back to classrooms in January. Much of Colorado’s population is in counties still classified as “severe risk” — the state’s second-worst status for COVID-19 levels.
The lack of a coherent response has left much of the decision-making in the hands of individual principals. That’s not all bad, teachers say. Benjamin Morse, who teaches eighth-grade language arts at Russell Middle School in Colorado Springs School District 11, said his school began the school year remote and moved to a hybrid model before going remote again two weeks before Thanksgiving.
“I think my principal has done a really excellent job,” Morse said. “The district has allowed individual leadership from school to school which has benefited me and my colleagues greatly.”
In Jefferson County, physical education teacher Rob Wright said his school’s administration at Bergen Meadow and Bergen Valley has been effective with guiding teachers through the crisis but believes the district-level has failed in leadership.
“It’s kind of the Wild West out here. … The district is not sending out guidelines of ‘This is how P.E. should work during this.’ They’re kind of just saying, each school is going to figure out their own thing.”
Jeffco Public Schools did not respond to a request for comment.
Before his schools in Evergreen went fully remote, Wright said he had been stressed out every day making sure that sports equipment was properly disinfected between classes — something that he estimates took 15 to 20 percent more time than usual.
Inconsistent and unclear metrics for decision-making across Colorado have caused a lot of anxiety and unpredictability for students, parents and teachers, said Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association.
“The workload has been tremendous on our educators and just the emotional, the mental, and the physical stress and strain that educators have experienced this fall has been very challenging,” she said.
Many districts recognize that problem: a recent poll found that 90 percent of districts said teacher mental health is a top priority. But even where schools want to give teachers a break, the same report found districts across the state largely don’t have enough substitute teachers.