At South High, no in-person classes through December

At least one Denver high school won’t have any in-person classes through the end of the 2020 calendar year.

The South High School leadership team sent parents a letter Thursday evening saying that beginning Oct. 21, all students who selected the in-person option for the remainder of the fall semester can come to the school for two hours each afternoon for “social-emotional learning and academic support.” But all classes will remain online.

South, one of the most diverse schools in the district, is providing the minimum in-person contact time required by the district, and is choosing to use none of that time for actual classes.

At Thursday’s Denver Public School board pubic comment session, South parent Moira Kotowski said the decision will damage her ninth-grade daughter’s education during a formative year.

“I can tell you, from watching my daughter these first few weeks of fully remote school, that online learning, no matter the good intentions and hard work of our amazing teachers and schools, is just not the same level of rigor,”Kotowski said. “In her 9th grade Honors English class, my daughter has yet to do a writing assignment a full month into the school year. Not one. As a freshman in a new school, it is challenging for her to connect with the teachers and classmates she has not yet met. The online class format is not conducive to the rigorous class debate and discussion we expect at the high school level.”

Kotowski asked that South revise its plan so that all students who so choose can receive two hours per day of “in-person, live instruction.”

Jennifer Wilshire, another South parent, echoed Kotowski and added that South’s decision will further widen opportunity gaps.

“Families with financial means are hiring teachers and creating study rooms whereas under resourced students are left to fend for themselves,” Wilshire said. She also pointed out that other school districts in the metro area are figuring out ways to make live instruction happen. “I respectfully ask and even implore you find a way to give DPS students this same opportunity.”

Other schools could choose to follow a path similar to South’s. In an email Wednesday, DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova outlined the district’s current plans for returning to in-person schools. She cautioned that upward trends in COVID-19 infections in Denver could upend current plans.

But for now, middle and high schools must offer a minimum of 10 hours of in-person learning for families who have opted in. “At some secondary schools, students may participate in a traditional, in-person class (like English 1) during in-person learning time,” Cordova wrote. “At other schools, they may continue remote classes and have a minimum of 10 hours of in-person time for academic/social-emotional support, academic advising, credit recovery, college advising or other options that address students’ needs.”

Elementary schools are slated to return to full-time in-person learning on Oct. 21.