Cherry Creek School District staffers divided on full-time return

‘Teachers thrilled to be vaccinated,’ school union president says


The members of the Cherry Creek School District teachers’ union are split on the district’s decision to reopen for full-time, in-person classes, according to Kasey Ellis, the union’s president.

She’s seen members who said, “‘I’m going to drop my membership because we didn’t go back to full in-person after spring break,’” Ellis said. “I have members that are angry we’re going back. So it’s kind of a mixed bag.”

Ellis leads the Cherry Creek Education Association, the union that represents teachers and other school staff in negotiations with the Cherry Creek district. The union has about 2,800 members.

All middle and high schools in Cherry Creek School District reopened for full-time, in-person classes on April 5, a change that will continue through the end of the school year, the district announced March 10.

The Douglas County, Jefferson County, Littleton, Adams 12 Five Star and Weld Re-8 school districts have recently made similar decisions. Westminster Public Schools has provided full-time, in-person learning at all levels since the semester began.

The change in Cherry Creek applies to students who chose in-person classes this year and have been attending school on the hybrid, or “blended,” model. This school year, Cherry Creek district had operated under a plan for grades six through 12 that placed half of students in school Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with the other half attending Thursday and Friday.

For Ellis’ own child, the hybrid system had worked better than when the district was fully remote.

“He is a social kid, he needs that interaction,” Ellis said. “Do I think it’ll be a challenge for him to get used to going every day? Yep, I do. But I can only speak for (myself).

“I’m torn on this — I have to be honest,” Ellis said.

She lives across the street from Smoky Hill High School in the east Centennial area and said kids appear not to be staying socially distanced.

“We can socially distance them in a classroom,” but that goes out the window when they come out in hallways or they leave in their cars together, Ellis said.

The decision to go full-time in person on April 5 came directly from Superintendent Scott Siegfried, Ellis said.

“Where the union was involved is trying to figure out details. We were at the table trying to figure out logistics,” Ellis said.

A formal agreement called a “memorandum of understanding” between the district and the union outlined that high school and middle school students would attend classes in a hybrid setup, so the discrepancy in returning to full in-person classes could have given the union the ability to “grieve” the change, Ellis said.

“And that’s basically saying to the district, ‘Hey, you violated this, and we want to have that rectified,” Ellis said.

She added that it’s unclear what would come of a process to rectify the situation, given the trend in school districts coming back full time in general.

The memorandum was drafted last year when the union was working with the district on what returning to school in August would look like. The agreement was signed in August, Ellis said.

Ultimately, there was no grievance, district spokeswoman Abbe Smith said on March 26.

“We are working with the union to renegotiate the MOU. Since the start of the pandemic, we have worked collaboratively with the teachers’ union in all aspects of planning for in-person, hybrid and online learning options,” Smith said. “We are grateful that the state prioritized vaccinating teachers and worked with our partners to make sure our teachers had access to vaccines as soon as they were eligible.”

Siegfried has said in multiple communications to families and staff that as soon as all Cherry Creek teachers and staff have had the opportunity to receive the vaccine, the district would begin moving toward full in-person classes for families who want it, Smith said.

“Of the 26,000 middle and high students who are hybrid, only 422 decided to finish the year remotely. We look forward to welcoming the rest of them back to full in-person learning on April 5,” Smith said.

The district includes roughly 55,000 students. As of mid-January, the district had about 10,100 students enrolled in online class.

“I can tell you at this point that all staff have had the opportunity to receive a vaccine if they choose,” Smith said on March 10. “Some have just had their first dose; some have had both by now.”

Teachers have been excited to be vaccinated, Ellis said.

When the pandemic reached Colorado, it seemed that teachers were hailed as heroes, but later, it seemed that teachers were seen as “lazy bums and villains” due to not wanting to teach five days per week in person amid virus concerns, Ellis said.

Being highly prioritized for vaccination on Colorado’s distribution schedule likely made teachers feel valued, Ellis said.

“They were posting pictures of their vaccination card,” Ellis said. “Teachers were thrilled for this.”


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