Poudre School District is canceling school and closing district operations the entire week of Thanksgiving due to staffing shortages and to "provide some opportunities for respite" to staff, students and families, according to a message sent Friday by Superintendent Brian Kingsley.
"Simply put, there aren’t enough people to provide the coverage needed to care for students across the district," he wrote, saying the district was anticipating existing staffing shortages would worsen close to the break.
"At the same time, we know that many of our staff, students and families are facing unique challenges. People are feeling worn down or downright exhausted."
Students will now have Nov. 22-26 off for an extended fall break, an addition of two days. The break was originally scheduled for Nov. 24-26.
On Nov. 22-23, PSD students can receive free meals, and child care will be provided at O'Dea and Werner elementary schools. All activities, extracurriculars, events and athletics are canceled on those days, according to Kingsley's message.
Kingsley said the decision to close schools for the week aligns with what other districts along the Front Range are doing. Closures have happened in Denver Public Schools and the Boulder Valley School District.
Denver Public Schools shifted three schools to remote learning this week due to shortages and announced Thanksgiving break would begin early to provide a mental health day. Boulder schools closed Friday as at least 486 teachers took the day off, according to a report from USA TODAY.
Earlier this week, PSD spokesperson Madeline Noblett said she was hopeful the district wouldn't have to close schools or stop providing services to students but couldn't be sure it wouldn't happen.
“Because of the significance and the prolific nature of these staffing shortages, there may come a day where, despite best efforts, there could be no breakfast served at a particular school,” she gave as an example. “We're trying to do everything we can, though, to make sure it doesn't.”
PSD COVID-19 protocols remain in place
PSD has seen more than 1,300 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 since the school year started in mid-August, and the number of reported cases each month has steadily been increasing.
But leadership is confident in its mitigation strategies and hopeful that the recent emergency use approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for kids 5-11 will help decrease the district’s cases.
“What we saw last year as our high schoolers and middle schoolers became eligible for the vaccine (was) a significant decrease in the number of cases at that age group,” Noblett said. “So I think we're hopeful that we would see that same sort of effect in the weeks to come.”
As of Nov. 12, more than half of the cases this year have been at the elementary level.
Noblett said they’re still attributing the high case totals to the more contagious delta variant, but beyond that they aren’t “able to pinpoint any one thing in particular.”
No plans for remote learning
Noblett also added that even as the cold weather sets in, other viruses continue to spread and COVID-19 isn’t improving in the general community, "we are not preparing for a district-wide shift to remote.”
“We are prioritizing in-person learning … it's just about remaining vigilant with the protocols that we have in place that have been proven to work,” Noblett said of working to control the virus in the coming months.
The district has made minimal changes to its COVID-19 protocols since the beginning of the year, keeping its primary strategies of requiring masks and promoting — but not requiring — vaccination among eligible students and staff.
PSD doesn’t track vaccination status among students or staff but will begin to collect data on employees in its Head Start and Early Head Start programs that receive federal funding, meaning they fall under the federal vaccine mandate.
Masks must be worn for indoor sports
One slight change to the district's COVID-19 protocols is an expansion of its mask mandate following Larimer County's reinstatement of the countywide indoor requirement on Oct. 20.
Indoor athletes and performers are now required to wear masks during games and shows; these were exceptions to PSD’s policy at the beginning of the year, Noblett said.
PSD is also preparing to allow out-of-state travel for students on school-related trips in the second semester, loosening the travel restrictions with which it began the year.
There may be a shift on the horizon in how PSD deals with teaching students who are home from school while quarantining or isolating, as well.
At Tuesday's Board of Education meeting, Kingsley said the district has heard from parents that it "can do better" regarding educating students in quarantine, though he noted it's "a complex challenge." He said families could expect more information and guidance for remote learning on Friday, but Noblett told the Coloradoan Friday morning that the information won't be released until next week.
Molly Bohannon covers education for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @molboha or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Poudre School district cancels school for all of Thanksgiving week