Appoquinimink schools to start year remotely

ODESSA — Appoquinimink students will begin their school year remotely before transitioning to hybrid learning, the school board decided Tuesday.

The board voted unanimously that the district would open remotely for six weeks beginning Sept. 8.

Following the remote start, the district will shift into hybrid learning Oct. 19. Parents will be able to keep their students remote, however.

The district joins several others that have already opted to begin their year at a distance before slowly bringing students back to the building. Capital and Milford school boards decided to do the same, on a similar schedule of a six-week period. Cape Henlopen voted to begin hybrid (though they will begin in mid-September). Polytech School District likewise outlined intentions for a hybrid start. 

At the beginning of the month, Gov. John Carney announced the state would allow for schools to open hybrid — a mixture of in-person and remote instruction — but it was up to school leadership to implement the 34-page Returning to School guidance, courtesy of the Delaware Department of Education.

At the school board meeting Tuesday, Appoquinimink board member Michelle Wall said in her remarks during board comments that, as a board member and parent, she has felt the frustrations of the community waiting for a plan and more information.

“That frustration is mainly with the situation and not with our district,” she said. “I too am extremely frustrated with our governor. We were instructed by his office that they would be providing us with guidance and then that guidance ended up being ‘choose your own adventure.’ If that was going to be the guidance, I wish he would have told us that in May.”

In Appoquinimink’s virtual environment, students will partake in live and pre-recorded lessons, with schedules varying by grade configuration.

Monday through Friday, preschoolers would be in session 12:30 to 3:30 p.m., elementary from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., middle from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and high school 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. 

Staff will be encouraged to come to school during the remote learning period, Superintendent Matt Burrows said.

“We’re not going to require them to come in, but we’d like them to start making the transition as we look to go hybrid, realizing that in hybrid, that unless you have … a reason that you can’t come in, that we’re going to need you to come in,” he said. “And that’s where we’re working on some childcare options, too.”

Dr. Burrows added that the district is having preliminary conversations with childcare facilities in the community as the district plans its reopening.

Following the first six weeks, hybrid learning will begin. Students will be assigned to cohorts and will alternate between days in-school and days remote. Schedules will vary by grade.

The district’s earliest learners would meet Monday through Friday. In preschool, hybrid learners would meet 9 a.m. to noon, while virtual learners would meet 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. 

“We really think it’s important to just have children in the morning so that we can do a thorough cleaning, our custodians can get in; we’ll have lots of surfaces that will need to be cleaned each and every day,” said Kim Brancato, principal of the Appoquinimink Preschool Center.

Elementary would meet 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Cohorts would alternate one day in school, the next remote. All elementary students will participate in remote learning Wednesdays. Wednesdays would serve as days for professional development for educators, time for students to complete homework, office hours and cleaning, said Gayle Rutter, principal for Spring Meadow Early Childhood Center.

In middle and high school, students will be assigned to one of three cohorts. Two will attend classes in school two times a week. One cohort will remain virtual. 

Monday through Thursday, in-school classes for middle schoolers will meet 9:30 to 11:45 a.m. and virtual classes will meet 12:45 to 3:30 p.m. Virtual classes, held Fridays, from 12:45 to 3:30 p.m.

High school instruction would operate similarly, with students in school Monday through Thursday, with in-person classes meeting 9:30 to 11:35 a.m. and virtual classes 12:45 to 3:30 p.m. Virtual classes on Fridays would run from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

“You’re seeing an extended time in remote learning,” Superintendent Matt Burrows told the school board. “That’s something that we learned in the spring — more face-to-face engagement time with teachers.”

Before the board — and the more than 1,000 people who tuned into the meeting’s livestream on Youtube — heard the various options for returning to school, Jennifer O’Brien, president of the Appoquinimink Education Association, urged the board to start remotely for a six-week period.

“When we do return, we asked that a plan to address the following be implemented: distancing, deterrence of the virus, deep cleaning and detection on each campus. We want assurances of safety and we look forward to the day when we can be normal again,” she said.

The school board plans to hold workshop meetings to discuss the nuances of the plan they selected Tuesday in more detail.

“I know that even as we got this 34-page document, our governor does want us to reopen on some sort of hybrid basis. I know the CDC and Dr. [Anthony] Fauci [director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] have opined at various times that they think students should come back, that that’s important,” said board president Richard Forsten. “…Our guiding principle has always been to do what we find to be, what we believe to be, the best interest of our students. And so from all the comments we’ve got, we’ve taken those into account, and we want to have kids back in school, but we want to have them back in school in as safe an environment as we can do.”

Other districts are slated to meet later this month. Smyrna will hold a virtual town hall Wednesday at 6 p.m. Lake Forest (7 p.m.) and Delmar (5 p.m.) school boards will meet Thursday virtually.

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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