Come fall, Jeffco Public School students may head to their campuses on a scheduled rotation of in-person and remote learning to prevent too many kids and staff members congregating at once. Social distancing would be enforced during recess. Temperature checks and symptom screenings would be required to get in the doors, and masks would be recommended but not mandatory.

Jeffco Public Schools announced Friday the most comprehensive plan Coloradans have seen outlining what school might look like in the fall amid the new coronavirus pandemic. The plan is considered a draft to be amended by community input and changing public health guidelines, but it offers a glimpse into the murky future of trying to teach and learn after the highly contagious new coronavirus shuttered school buildings across the nation in March and disrupted education as we know it.

“We hear a lot from polar extremes,” said Jeffco Superintendent Jason Glass. “One side says there’s no way you can keep everybody safe and to keep everyone home. But there are costs to remote learning — academic costs, social, emotional and economic costs. It’s not risk-free to remain doing only remote learning.”

“Then we hear a lot from this other extreme that says it’s a hoax — that you should effectively pretend this isn’t happening and restore all in-person learning. We reject the extreme and polar opposites. We have to find a middle ground that restores in-person learning to the greatest extent we can, but we want to do so in a way that takes every prudent step to keep our staff and students safe.”

Jeffco looked to countries opening schools in other parts of the world for guidance along with advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local public health guidelines and consulting with other districts across the Front Range, Glass said.

The plan looks at three approaches depending on how the pandemic plays out — a traditional return to school, a remote return or a mix. The most likely approach would be a hybrid plan featuring in-school elements including new coronavirus symptom screening, one-way paths throughout buildings with signs directing people where to go, keeping windows and doors open when safe to allow for fresh air circulation, and limiting the sharing of school supplies.

Eventually, Glass hopes testing for COVID-19 is readily available in the district.

Come fall, Glass expects social distancing guidelines of six-feet apart will remain in place, although he’s not sure how many people will be allowed to gather in a classroom.

“We have to look at how many square feet are in a classroom, how many individuals are in a classroom,” Glass said. “That means we’re not able to have everybody back. It will lead us to split schedules.”

Glass proposed ‘A’ and ‘B’ days or weeks where students would trade time spent learning from home with time in a classroom with a limited number of students and staff.

The plan said Jeffco would be flexible in scheduling educators based on their personal needs and the needs of their students.

“Another one of the challenges we have to design through is child care for our own teachers,” Glass said. “We can’t create a system where a teacher is working on an ‘A’ day but their child is at home that same day.”

There will be a remote-only option for parents who don’t want to send their children to school at all, Glass said.

Melissa Wallace — a Jeffco parent to elementary, middle and high school students — thinks it’s time to send students back. She said the mental health implications and academic repercussions of keeping kids learning from home and attached to their screens outweighs the risks of the new coronavirus for her family, although she said she understands others would feel differently depending on their health and age.

She also noted, although her family would be able to have a parent stay home with their kids, some families wouldn’t have the luxury.

“At what cost do we keep doing this?” Wallace said. “The reality as parents is we weigh risks every day for our kids. How far do we let this go before we say OK, maybe it’s time to weigh the risk? I don’t see that there is enough of a risk to my children. I have healthy kids, and I’m thankful for that. I feel like we should be able to make that decision for our family. We are fortunate enough we can make any situation they put out work, but if they tell me my 9-year-old is only able to go to school one day a week, maybe we look at some private school options.”

Jeffco seeks parent input on when the school year should begin. Some higher education institutions — like Denver’s private Regis University — are starting their academic calendars early in a bid to end the semester before a predicted wave of flu and a potential second wave of the new coronavirus.

Glass said this is a possibility, but starting later would allow for more preparation to get the fall semester right. Jeffco’s academic year was scheduled to begin Aug.18.

“We also should expect to have outbreaks or things happen over the course of this next year where we’d have to close school down over the next days and re-start again,” Glass said. “We may go through periods of in-person learning and remote. We’re trying to think about all the possible ways this could happen with the goal of restoring as much in-person learning as we can.”

While masks will be recommended, Glass said Jeffco is not requiring them unless public health guidance changes.

“We did start in a place of requiring them, but we’re concerned about two things: younger kids fiddling with them all the time and touching their faces may be worse,” Glass said. “In addition to messing with the masks or touching faces, there are some things around teaching language and teaching reading where you need to see somebody’s mouth and face.”

Jeffco leads metro Denver school districts in releasing its fall plan.

“You have to think ahead to the degree you can, and anticipate what’s going to happen,” Glass said. “What got us in front of remote learning ahead of other districts is we were watching the virus as it moved already around the world and seeing what other school districts internationally are doing.”

Denver Public Schools hopes to release its fall reopening guidelines in early June.

Boulder Valley School District released a smaller set of guidelines last week explaining what school may look like in phases of reintroduction.

For phase two of its plan, BVSD said restrictions would permit resuming limited in-person learning activities for a small group of prioritized students who may not have equitable access to education through remote learning.

“We just have to be adaptable,” Jeffco Superintendent Glass said. “There’s a lot we still don’t know.”