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Chaparral High School is part of the Douglas County School District.
Chaparral High School is part of the Douglas County School District.
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Senior Sunrise Student Event Photo Shows No Masks, Social Distancing

Today, August 17, in-person orientation will start for students at Chaparral High School in Parker, a part of the Douglas County School District, and attendees and staffers should have plenty to discuss regarding safety during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A photo circulating on social media shows what appears to be well over 100 Chaparral seniors posing with a Class of 2021 banner, without any facial coverings or social distancing in sight.

The shot could prove every bit as alarming to public-health officials as was an image of a crowded and mask-free hallway at a Georgia high school that was forced to close temporarily after six students and three employees tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The photo was shared in conjunction with an event at Chaparral known as "Senior Sunrise," which has been celebrated annually for the past seven years. A video posted by the Douglas County School District on August 14, 2013, introduces the event with this: "Marking their last year and a new era at Chaparral High School, the school's class of 2014 celebrated a new tradition, gathering for the first-ever Senior Sunrise. As it turned out, the sun didn't make an appearance, but the event was certainly a success for both the students and their new principal, Greg Gotchey."

Here's that clip:

According to a knowledgeable source who requested anonymity, this year's Senior Sunrise wasn't sanctioned by either Gotchey, who's still the Chaparral principal, or any other official school department — a fact confirmed by Douglas County School District, which otherwise confined its response to sharing a link on its website about proper safety measures. However, we're told that numerous rising seniors at Chaparral decided to take planning of the event into their own hands, communicating with classmates via social media.

The photo was shared on Facebook by what appears to be the parent of a Chaparral senior. The user's name has been deleted, but the caption remains. After the aside "I didn't post this to start a debate," the item notes, "My daughter is a senior. I am so thankful that she was able to attend this and have some normalcy!"

Douglas County is among the more conservative jurisdictions in metro Denver, and Colorado as a whole. When Tri-County Public Health, the agency that oversees health guidelines related to COVID-19 in three counties, including Douglas, issued a mandatory mask mandate in early July, Douglas County announced plans to split from the agency next year and form its own public-health entity.

Meanwhile, school districts in Denver and Aurora have postponed in-person instruction until at least October — but Douglas County School District chose instead to institute a hybrid schedule under what's dubbed the "Road to Return" program.

According to this DCSD web page, the first week of school will be mainly preparatory, with each facility welcoming approximately 20 percent of their students for orientation each day. The district explains: "School leaders will be in touch with families prior to the start of school to inform them of their assigned student orientation day. All students (hybrid learners and eLearners) will be assigned a student orientation day. Families who have selected eLearning and do not wish to send their children to orientation should contact their school directly to request other arrangements."

Next Monday, August 24, the hybrid learning model will begin in earnest. here's how DCSD describes it:

Students will be assigned into Cohort A or Cohort B.
• Cohort A will attend school in-person on Mondays and Wednesdays. Tuesdays and Thursdays will be independent learning from home, meaning students will work on assignments, view pre-recorded lessons from their teachers, etc. (their teacher will be teaching Cohort B in-person on these two days).
• Cohort B will attend school in-person on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Mondays and Wednesdays will be independent learning from home, meaning students will work on assignments, view pre-recorded lessons from their teachers online, etc. (their teacher will be teaching Cohort A in-person on these two days).
• On Fridays, all students (Cohorts A and B) will receive live online instruction from their teacher(s). Schools will notify families regarding which cohort their students are assigned to. Siblings will be assigned to the same cohort schedule.

Westword has reached out to Chaparral principal Gotchey his take on the photo; we'll update this post if we hear back.

This post has been updated to include a response from Douglas County School District.

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