Academics and Equity working group lays groundwork for return to school

Fairness, empathy, access, impartial, equal. Those were some of the words that working group members used to describe what they considered “equity” as the second reopening schools working group, focused on Academics and Equity, began their series of meetings Wednesday.

“The reason we did that is really to make sure that we come to a common understanding about the topic that we are tackling,” noted co-chair Monica Gant, associate secretary for the Delaware Department of Education. “Academics will be the work that we do moving forward, of course, but we want to begin with equity and then entrench everything that we’re doing in it.”

Academics and Equity is one of three working groups established to help create a framework that is put into place by district and charter school leadership when schools are permitted to reopen, or how to move forward if learning is to continue remotely.

The working group is chaired by Dr. Gant and Ashley Giska, assistant superintendent for Laurel School District.

The working groups are partnered with Opportunity Labs, a national nonprofit. The organization developed the Return to School Roadmap, which was in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Each week, the group will discuss a different scenario — from minimal community spread where buildings are open; to minimal to moderate community spread, where school reopenings are situation-dependent; and substantial community spread, where schools are closed. The group is meant to have its recommendations to the Secretary of Education Susan Bunting by early July.

Public participation is encouraged, though it will be done virtually. Participants may submit public comments to an email address, reopeningideas@doe.k12.de.us, or by voicemail to 302-735-4244. The department will transcribe the comments and post them online, to the department’s website (www.doe.k12.de.us). The comments will be shared across the working groups.

Opportunity Labs is providing recommendations in all of these areas as a starting point, with the goal of individualizing the plan for Delaware.

Wednesday’s first official meeting tackled what minimal spread would mean for schools. Minimal spread — with the virus passing from one sick person to less than one other person — would mean that schools are open, with few significant changes from typical operating procedure.

Equity vs. equality

As the group begins their work, Dr. Gant reminded group members the difference between equity and equality. Equality is giving everyone the same thing; equity is fairness, with access to the same opportunities, she said.

“When we’re thinking about equity, we’re really defining it as: every child gets what they need in our schools — every child, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, who their parents are, what their temperament is and what they show up knowing or not knowing,” she said. “This is what teaching is, this is what we do. This is how we’re going to think about equity not just specific groups of students, but all students, and then what does each of those different students need?”

The different types of recommendations the committee discussed and worked on refining included putting structures in place to communicate directly with every family and student; actively engaging every student, including students who need additional support, in learning; determining adaptations needed to support every learner in varied learning environments; and providing support for every student and their family in the transition between learning environments.

Although the group members were discussing what could happen in an ideal future, where schools were operating as normal, conversation slipped back to what many were still experiencing now with school buildings shuttered.

“I think that because this experience was so jarring and it’s so fresh in everyone’s mind that we’re probably in more of a moderate to high spread mindset, so it’s going to be hard,” Mr. Giska noted.

While the students would be returning to business as usual on the surface, Stephanie Ingram, president for the Delaware State Education Association, noted that they have to remember what students have been living through. When it comes to communicating with students, she said, schools may need to up capacity and add additional staff members to handle that.

“As it is now, we have students that are moving, students who have been lost in the shuffle, students we don’t know where they are. Emails do not reach every student. We need some staff on the ground,” she said. “We’re going to have a severe transition time and we’re going to need as many boots on the ground as possible.”

Dr. Maria Alonso, school board president for Academia Antonia Alonso Charter School, noted that it was important to connect with families, too.

“I think that at the beginning of school, it is going to be so important that we’re meeting not only with our students, but meeting with our families to learn where they’re at, to learn what worked, what didn’t,” she said, adding, “but we have to be anticipating that we may be going remote, gathering the data so that we can then have some structures in place that would be supportive is, I think, critical.”

The Academics and Equity working group will continue to meet Wednesdays, Health and Wellness will meet Tuesdays and Operations and Services will meet Thursdays. All meetings are scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. and can be streamed on DOE’s Youtube channel.


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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