Carney creates child care flexibility: School districts prepare for unknown future

When students, educators and school staff across the state went home last Friday, they were heading, somewhat unknowingly, into an unscheduled two-week hiatus.

Gov. John Carney ordered all public schools to close through March 27 in response to COVID-19. The closure — along with restrictions placed on almost all aspects of daily life — is an attempt to “flatten the curve” to keep the virus from spreading.

On Thursday, Gov. Carney said that the state would allow for flexibility in child care due to the challenges brought by the coronavirus pandemic.

School district officials have noted this is an evolving situation. While schools are only slated for a two-week break, many acknowledge that circumstances are fluid.

In his letter announcing the closure last week, Gov. Carney said state officials were to work with school leadership and public health officials to plan in the event the situation worsens.

“We will specifically prepare for the potential impact of extended school closures on Delaware children and their families,” he said.
However, no decisions have been announced at this time to extend the closure, said Alison May, a spokesperson for the Delaware Department of Education.

Although schools are closed, Gov. Carney directed that child care centers remain open. He expanded that directive on Thursday.

Through an executive order, Josette Manning, the Secretary of the Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families can “suspend or modify provisions of the state’s childcare rules, regulations and statutes — as long as changes will not endanger the safety or welfare of a child,” according to a release.

“The coronavirus is taking a serious toll across our state, on families who are losing income, and child care providers who care for our youngest Delawareans every day,” Gov. Carney said in a prepared statement. “This Executive Order will help make sure Delawareans have access to child care over the long run, especially those health care workers who we need on the front lines of our state’s response.”

As part of the order, which will be in effect until the state of emergency is rescinded, DSCYF can potentially create emergency child care sites for children of health care workers, emergency medical services, law enforcement or other essential state services, according to information released from DSCYF.

According to DSCYF, those seeking license exemption should complete an application, which will be reviewed by the DSCYF secretary.

Review materials available

Addressing the school board, Superintendent of Capital School District Dan Shelton acknowledged that providing supplemental education online is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

“While that would be a wonderful way for us to engage with our community, we’re not there yet in digital convergence,” he said.

Many school districts aren’t, and many turned to paper-and-pencil models of sending review material home.

During this two-week period, the districts aren’t required to teach. Ms. May said that DOE “is providing support and suggested resources to districts,” but the review packets are local decisions.

Appoquinimink School District sent students home with three weeks worth of review materials before school were asked formally to shutter. Lake Forest, Woodbridge, Capital, Milford and other school districts also released packets for students.

“We do want to provide our children with the means and the opportunity to at least do things that will keep their minds stimulated and keep them at least thinking about their education and to help their parents, too, because we know that the parents will want some support also,” Kevin Fitzgerald, superintendent of Caesar Rodney School District, said at a school board meeting Tuesday. “We are working on that.”

While delivering meals to students on Monday through bus routes, or asking parents to come by on Tuesday to collect food, Academy of Dover Charter School handed out review packets for their students.

Students with Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs, are being addressed district-level, as well.

“Our special education teacher put together [packets] more specific to their IEP as well,” Academy of Dover Head of School Michele Marinucci said.

Ms. May said that those packets don’t replace any instructional days. She noted that, should the closure become longer-term, school leadership will receive guidance from DOE in educating remotely.

In the interim, national resources like Scholastic have created learn-at-home materials as well.

Providing meals

According to DOE, 117 sites are offering food for students affected by the closure.

DART is providing free transportation, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., on normal bus routes to help children get meals until schools are back in session.

At more than 50 different drop off locations, Capital School District’s food trucks and buses delivered 898 meals Wednesday and 961 meals Thursday to its community.

Two-week break adjustment?

Districts will determine how to recoup the days lost themselves, Ms. May said in an email.

“Once the duration of the closure is known, we will begin designing a new school calendar for this year, which could include adjusting the last day of school to a later date,” said Heath Chasanov, superintendent of the Woodbridge School District, in a letter to families. “This decision would be made by our Board of Education at a public meeting that all can attend.”

Other school districts are eying spring break as a potential way to regain the days lost.

Indian River Superintendent Mark Steele wrote in a letter to families that the district should be able to recover days originally earmarked for snow, and by changing spring break.

“More time will be preserved for education – so less time would be needed to meet state regulations for instructional hours,” he wrote. “We will seek guidance from the Delaware Department of Education regarding ‘waiver’ options, and would only add days to the end of the school year as a last resort.”

Some others, like Appoquinimink and Caesar Rodney school districts, released information noting that, at this time, the districts don’t plan to change their breaks.

“After reviewing the district calendar closely, at this time, it would appear that the current two week closure will NOT require us to adjust Spring Break, although we will need to make some other adjustments to the calendar,” a letter signed by Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows and school board president Richard Forsten said. “Having said that, we must all recognize that this is a fluid situation and subject to change. We will continue to keep you updated as we get information.”

Accounting for state testing

As it is only anticipated that schools will be out for two weeks, Ms. May said in an email that there has been “lots of discussion. No decisions” as to what will come of state testing.

“How long we are closed will really influence this,” she added.

State tests come from the federal level, Caesar Rodney’s Dr. Fitzgerald noted.

He said that many other states are dealing with the same matter.

“The same is true with AP, with AP exams. It’s really too early for anyone in Delaware to ask for a waiver pertaining to the AP exam,” he said Tuesday. “I know that people are anxious and they want to know what’s going on, and we want to be helpful but right now we’ve been out for two days, where the goal is two weeks and we’re back in. Should that not be the case, then I’m sure that waivers will be requested that will come from the state.”

Parents staying home

Employees impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak are eligible for unemployment benefits.

Under modified requirements, parents or guardians forced to quit or take unpaid leave from their jobs to care for children due to the emergency closure of schools and workers who have been forced to quit or take unpaid leave to care for a loved one who has contracted coronavirus will also be eligible.

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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