The Montezuma-Cortez School District announced Friday that it will postpone the start of the 2020-21 school year to Aug. 24 for in-person classes and Aug. 26 for online classes.
As of Thursday, the school intended to open for the year on Monday.
The last-minute delay is in part because of the unanticipated high number of students who chose to pursue fully online learning through Colorado Digital Learning Solutions, both in Montezuma County and across the state.
“This additional week will be used to re-evaluate district enrollment and staffing needs to provide our educational programming in-person and online, and to provide staff with additional planning time and support,” Superintendent Lori Haukeness said in a news release.
More than 2,000 students in Colorado tried to enroll in CDLS this week, which overwhelmed the system, Haukeness said. The school district will enroll the middle and high school students who were unable to enroll in CDLS this week on Monday.
The Montezuma-Cortez district contracted with CDLS, a state program, to facilitate online education for students in the district. The district elected a model that would allocate a teacher from CDLS to check in with its students with online discussion forums or video chat.
However, over the past two weeks, there has been a big spike in the number of students enrolling for the program, said Dan Morris, executive director of CDLS.
“We’ve received an unprecedented demand,” Morris said.
About 20% of students across the state have chosen an online program instead of in-person classes. In the Montezuma-Cortez district, the number is about 34% of students.
Because of the high demand, CDLS, which typically works with 40 to 45 teachers statewide, is unable to provide the one-on-one guidance it originally offered to Montezuma-Cortez schools.
Haukeness said the school district was notified about the issue for elementary school students by CDLS last week. And Thursday, the district found out CDLS teachers could not accommodate middle and high school students in the district.
Morris said he is working with the Montezuma-Cortez district to have local teachers check in with students who choose to go online, rather than the program’s teachers. CDLS will provide the content, platform and courses, and district teachers will check in with students to see if they need one-on-one guidance or instruction.
“We think that model is the best,” Morris said, “because teachers are connected with students locally, which is a better situation for maintaining contact with kids.”
Students must enrollThe school district also decided to push back its start date because some parents have not yet enrolled their students in either the in-person or online learning option, and the district is struggling to allocate teachers to both learning options.
“This was not an issue in the past because parents could enroll students in person on the first day of school,” Haukeness said. But in preparation for COVID-19, last-minute decisions can’t be allowed.
Additionally, if more students enroll for in-person classes than the district plans for, the district could break safety plans for students during COVID-19.
The district can’t allow more than 25 students per classroom. If students are allowed to enroll in person after school starts, the number of students in designated classrooms could rise to 30 as it has in the past, Haukeness said.
“We need to adhere to the safety plan,” Haukeness said, and “have our registration numbers before the start of the year.”
By Friday, about 2,000 students were enrolled in Montezuma-Cortez schools. About 1,300 students enrolled for in-person classes; and 650 for online classes.
But about 1,000 students have not yet enrolled in either the in-person or online option, based on last year’s enrollment of 2,840 students.
Haukeness said some parents are undecided about which option their children should pursue. Others may not be returning for various reasons. Either way, “parents need to tell the school,” she said.
Each school in the district reached out to its students and their families over the past week, Haukeness said.
The week of Aug. 17 will also be used to train teachers on how to support students in the district that are using CDLS, Haukeness said.
Parents and families who have not yet registered for school are urged to do so by Monday so the district can complete its planning, according to the news release.