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Kandis Ruspoli, left, a fourth-grade teacher with Widefield School District 3, and Jennifer West, a music teacher with the district, join other members of the Pikes Peak Education Association during a protest in July outside Centennial Hall during the El Paso County commissioners’ Public Health board meeting in downtown Colorado Springs. Members of the association that represents educators in the region were also inside speaking to the commissioners about how to safely open the school year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Colorado Education Association, along with teachers unions from across the state, plan to release its own metrics to guide school districts' decisions on when to keep learning in the classroom, citing frustration with the lack of clear, statewide thresholds.

The associations and unions on Thursday will unveil their own dial, in reference to the state "dial" that places counties in various risk categories depending on the virus's presence.

Officials declined to provide exact specifics Wednesday. The metrics that the groups crafted are intended to be placeholders for individual districts that their teachers groups can tweak.

John Robinson, the president of the Poudre Education Association, said the "real frustration" is "not having a reliable, stable system based on numbers and science." The goal is to establish school-specific metrics that can better establish, in concrete, measurable ways, when districts should move students into the classroom and when they should move them online. 

That way, Robinson said, the decisions will be guided by the numbers, "not an arbitrary decision based on politics or based on who's loudest on social media." He called the current battery of numbers, metrics, dials and dashboards from the state "convoluted," and he said they were overburdening the state and superintendents.

Under this system, "the superintendents aren't the villain. The education associations aren’t the villain, the parents aren't the villains," he said. "In this case, the true villain, as it should be, is the pandemic. It’s the virus itself." 

On Wednesday, Gov. Jared Polis announced new restrictions and a new risk category for counties with high rates of transmission. He also urged districts to continue in-person learning for younger learners, a comment that "disappointed" the state education association.

"School districts across Colorado are putting forth valiant efforts to safely remain open for in-person learning, but they are facing tremendous barriers on a daily basis," the association's president, Amie Baca-Oehlert, said in a statement Wednesday.

As the current spike of cases has continued to grow exponentially in recent weeks, districts across the state have begun to shift online. On Wednesday, Denver Public Schools announced that it would end all in-person learning, weeks after it had returned its youngest students to the classroom. 

The problem facing schools, officials say, is not that the virus is spreading wildly within classrooms. Teachers and students are getting sick because the virus is running rampant within the communities in which students and staff live and work.

In a statement accompanying DPS' announcement, Superintendent Susana Cordova said efforts by the state to slow the spread of the virus "did not come soon enough to allow us to sustain staffing for in-person learning in our schools for the rest of the first semester." She said that more than 300 cases among students and staff members are being reported each week.

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