Denver Public Schools announced this week it will close the district’s only online elementary school at the end of the academic year, as officials say it’s time to end a temporary program created in response to the pandemic.
About 200 students are enrolled in Denver Online Elementary, according to the district.
DPS returned fully to in-person learning during the 2021-22 academic year, but opened the online elementary as a virtual option for families still concerned about having children attend lessons in school buildings, said Cesar Cedillo, the district’s chief of schools, during a meeting of the Board of Education on Monday evening.
“It really was a response to COVID and the delta variant,” Cedillo said.
But parents who spoke during the meeting said they need online instruction for their children because family members have health conditions that place them at a higher risk of having severe cases of COVID-19, which can lead to hospitalization.
“The stakes are life and death,” parent Christin Finch told the school board.
Superintendent Alex Marrero noted the district receives less per-pupil funding via the online model, but he said that was not the reason why the school is closing.
“The school was a pandemic-era program that was only set up to run temporarily during those difficult times,” DPS spokeswoman Rachel Childress said in an email Tuesday. “The closure is not related to a financial reason.”
DPS officials on Tuesday could not provide data on how much Denver Online Elementary costs to operate the school and directed The Denver Post to file a request for that information under the Colorado Open Records Act.
The online school opened in the fall of 2021 and the district decided to continue it or at least another year because of uncertainty about the pandemic’s trajectory, Cedillo said.
In 2021, COVID-19 cases rose among children after the school year began as new variants of the virus, including delta, were found circulating in the state. Children ages 5 to 11 also didn’t become eligible for a vaccine until November 2021.
As COVID-19 outbreaks rose in schools districts faced widespread staffing shortages. leading them to temporarily cancel classes.
But this year, DPS has had fewer closures because of the virus, Cedillo said.
Colorado’s health department also stopped publicly reporting COVID-19 outbreaks in schools and rolled back its quarantine guidance for schools earlier this year.
Members of the school board questioned district officials about how they will support students as they transition to new schools and how the decision to end the school benefits DPS.
The district will work with the online students to help them transition to in-person learning next year, Cedillo said.
“Our youngest learners will be in person — possibly if they make that choice,” he said, adding it is difficult for younger students — especially English language learners — to learn online.
DPS has an online school for middle and high schoolers that will be not affected by the closure of the Denver Online Elementary.