Polis Closes All Of Colorado’s Schools Until April 17, Bans Gatherings of More Than 10 People

David Zalubowski/AP
A school sign shows a message as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps over Colorado and the country outside Littleton High School Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Littleton, Colo.

Updated March 18, 7:07 p.m.

Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order Wednesday evening closing all of the state's schools to in-person learning from March 23 to at least April 17 to guard against the spread of the coronavirus.

“We are acting boldly and swiftly together to protect the health and safety of all Coloradans. The science and data tells us this will get worse before it gets better,” Polis said. “We are in this together and the state is taking the necessary actions to slow the spread of this disease.”

The governor also announced that the state Department of Public Health and Environment had issued a public health order that goes into effect Thursday morning, March 19, and "will limit all mass gatherings to no more than 10 people for the next 30 days unless otherwise extended by the executive director of CDPHE."

The schools order requires both public and private schools and school districts and the Charter School Institute to close. It also requires schools to "make every effort" to provide alternative instruction to the state's K-12 students.

Many of the state's largest districts, including Denver, Aurora and Jeffco, had already announced plans to stay closed either before or after spring break, into the first days of April. But some districts have remained open.

Earlier in the day Polis held a press conference and hinted at the likelihood of a longer than expected — and statewide — school closure.

“That doesn't mean that learning is suspended,” Polis said. “We still have those teachers. We still have great staff. We still have the kids who need to learn, and we want to make sure they don't sacrifice a quarter of a year, a third of a year of academic achievement and that they're all ready for advancement to the next grade level academically."

Democratic Speaker of the House KC Becker probably echoed the thoughts of a lot of parents with her own reaction to the prospect of an extended closure.

“As a parent of two age school children, it’s a bummer,” she said, adding that it was going to require a major adjustment for a lot of families.

In addition to parents, the order will require a new round of scrambling among school district leaders to extend the closures they announced less than a week ago.

Denver Public Schools, for example, closed starting Monday, March 16, and planned to re-open to students on April 7. Other districts from Adams to Woodland Park planned closures of similar lengths.

Polis' order means many districts will have to continue to find ways to provide meals to students and online learning opportunities for an extend period.

The order explains that Polis believes it is necessary because children can carry COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, with only mild symptoms.

"Children can serve as a vector for the disease, increasing the risk of disease to older adults and individuals with certain underlying conditions, who are more likely to experience severe symptoms and even death from COVID-19," the order says.

The executive order takes an array of additional actions that dramatically impact schools. Polis, long a supporter of school accountability efforts, suspended the state assessment requirements for the 2019-20 school year. He also waived the annual requirement that the state Department of Education determine the "level of attainment" for each school and district, allowing CDE to simply keep schools at the same level they were assigned for the 2019-20 school year.

School districts and charter schools were also ordered to work with the state Department of Human Services to identify buildings that could be used for child care for "essential and emergency workers" during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Department of Human Services was also authorized to waive regulations "in order to increase the supply of child care for essential and emergency workers, if waiving such regulations will not endanger the public, health, welfare, or safety."

Polis also issued an additional executive order extending the closure of the state's downhill ski areas until April 6. His prior order was due to expire March 22, but many of the state's largest ski areas have already announced they will not re-open this season.