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Colorado Allows Colleges to Teach In-Person Classrooms at Half Capacity

Under new state guidance, Colorado colleges and universities can immediately offer in-person instruction for every class as long as they limit attendance to 50 percent capacity per room, up to 50 people.

Colleges and universities also might be allowed to accommodate up to 100 total people in a room depending on its size — such as an event hall over 11,300 square feet.

The new guidance Gov. Jared Polis issued on Friday allows higher education institutions flexibility in which classes can be taught in person. It’s an incremental change from April guidance that said only programs that needed to be taught in person were allowed to meet in person. All other classes were required to be taught remotely.

The state said it will  issue new guidelines for the fall semester in the next several weeks. 

Despite the new, more lenient guidance, some institutions are taking a cautious approach.

“Our approach does not change with the modifications to the governor’s guidance,” said Timothy Carroll, Metropolitan State University of Denver spokesman. “We are complying with the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] cleaning and disinfecting guidance and will continue to do so.”

As the April guidance required, schools will still need to notify the higher education department that it is resuming in-person instruction, as well as which classes it will teach. The notifications will be used for tracking purposes if there is an outbreak at the institution.

Schools will need to maintain a six-foot distance between students in classrooms and adhere to strict cleaning procedures. Schools must space seats 12 feet apart to leave room for students to  navigate the classroom safely. 

Faculty will need to undergo daily temperature checks, and if a faculty member chooses to teach without wearing a mask, they must remain at least 12 feet from students. Frequent handwashing is required. Any school employee that can stay home to do their job will be encouraged to stay home.

Most schools across the state won’t likely serve more than 50 students at a time due to space constraints. The University of Northern Colorado does have larger classroom spaces, but none greater than 11,300 square feet, said Nate Haas, a school spokesman.

“Some of our classrooms, because of their size, can hold more students,” Haas said. “We hope additional guidance this summer will allow us to use expanded capacity while still ensuring appropriate distance between students.”

But the new space guidelines could be used for events at school, Carroll said.

For example, the guidelines spell out that graduations will be allowed.

The state has a social distance space calculator to easily allow schools to calculate how many people it could have in an extra large space.

“Our facilities team tested the space calculator tool, but we haven’t used it yet for planning or decision making,” Carroll said. “As we look to evaluate larger gatherings moving forward (like events), this tool has the potential to be used more frequently.”

Jason Gonzales covers higher education for Chalkbeat Colorado, in partnership with Open Campus.

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