Appoquinimink parent groups rally to reopen schools

Lisa McCulley, an Appoquinimink parent and founder of StandUp Delaware, speaks to the crowd Thursday. StandUp Delaware was created in opposition to Gov. John Carney’s restrictions in response to coronavirus. (Delaware State News/Brook Schultz)

ODESSA — Holding a bunch of American flags and a sign, Lucy Hastings, a fifth-grade student in Appoquinimink School District, was among the crowd that gathered outside of the district’s administrative building Thursday afternoon to rally for reopening schools.

“I really want to go back to school in person because it’s my last year in elementary school and I want to see my friends and my teachers,” she said. “It’s really hard to do online school because sometimes the Zooms don’t work and it’s hard to sometimes understand what the teacher is saying and the links won’t work sometimes but the teacher can’t help you because she’s online.”

Protesters rally for a reopening of schools in Odessa Thursday. (Delaware State News/Brooke Schultz)

Appoquinimink schools have been back in session for about two weeks now, with virtual classes having kicked off Sept. 8.

At the start of last month, Gov. John Carney said that schools could reopen their doors in the hybrid fashion, which is a mixture of in-person and remote learning. The Delaware Department of Education released a 34-page guidance that laid out specifications for mask-wearing, transportation, cleaning, social distancing and more.

After that, it was local decisions across the state for how schools would return to session.

Many, like Appoquinimink, opted for a virtual start before beginning hybrid instruction after about six weeks, slated for mid-October. Others downstate — Seaford, Cape Henlopen, Polytech, for instance — opened their doors from the get-go to allow students in school for several days, and learning from home for others.

“I have two children in the school district and they are suffering terribly by not being able to go to school,” said Angela Hastings, Lucy’s mom. “We are asking for a choice and we’re being denied any kind of choice for our children.”

“Choice” is in the name for the group formed by Appoquinimink parents in the wake of school decisions — Appo Parents/Students for Having the CHOICE for School.

The group, along with StandUp Delaware, founded by another Appoquinimink parent Lisa McCulley in opposition to the restrictions implemented by Gov. Carney in response to coronavirus, and the Delaware High School Parents group, hosted the rally.

“I could feel the frustrations of parents that we were just handed a choice because that [district-released school reopening] survey was very limited in its choices and answers and people would say probably by design it was that way,” said Lindsey Sanford, founder of Appo Parents/Students for Having a CHOICE for School. “So I started the group to hopefully get parents together to feel like they have a voice for a choice and it doesn’t mean everybody wants to be in school full time, it may mean that they want remote. But we got our choice basically taken from us.”

Since forming after the board’s decision in early August, the group has accrued about 1,100 people on Facebook.

StandUp Delaware has been fighting to reopen schools since May, said Ms. McCulley last week.

At Thursday’s protest, Ms. McCulley was choked up when she advocated for schools to reopen full time in person.

“When I was a child, my school was my safe place. It was my haven and my teachers were my heroes. I came from a very abusive home,” she told the group that gathered outside the district building. “So when the state of emergency was called on March 12 — March 12 — and after several weeks of us hunkering down and waiting for that two weeks to flatten to curve, my heart started to ache. My heart started to ache for our children because I know first hand that many children are in trouble, even right now, today as we speak.”

The debate to reopen schools was also steeped in politics at Thursday’s rally.

Donyale Hall, a candidate for lieutenant governor, said her internet couldn’t support four of her children on live Zooms in the spring. Sitting along with her children as they completed their classes, she noted that supporting them academically was a challenge even for her.

“What do we do with our children when we already have a very wide achievement gap? Our children are falling through the cracks and it’s time to stop this,” she said. “These children were already behind and in this environment right now, remote learning, they continue to fall.”

Lee Murphy, who is vying to unseat Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester for the lone seat in the House of Representatives, said Gov. Carney was “trying to take away our rights” and “divide us.”

“Let me tell you, he is going to fail,” he said, drawing a cheer from the crowd. “All other people in public office, they are complicit with Gov. Carney by their silence.”

He told the crowd the difficulties his grandchildren have adapting to virtual environments.

“We are at a crucial time in Delaware’s history, in our nation’s history,” he said. “If we don’t stand up and if we don’t get 10 people for each person that’s here to stand up, we’re in trouble.”

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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