Commentary: Delaware’s private and independent schools need clarity

By Anthony Urti

An open letter to Gov. Carney:

I write as the head of a small, independent Christian school, Delaware Valley Classical School in New Castle, with a request of Gov. Carney that I suspect many independent school boards and administrators may second: Please provide direct guidance for Delaware’s private and  independent schools for how we may safely reopen to our students in the fall.

As we have experienced over the past few months, COVID-19 has required flexibility for us all, as the more the situation has remained the same, the more it has changed. I shudder at the gravity of the decisions that our leaders, including Gov. Carney, have faced over the past few months, and I am thankful it is they and not I bearing that responsibility. We are all concerned about the impact to physical health that COVID-19 may cause. I know it directly through loved ones that have contracted COVID-19, so I speak with sympathy to the cause of public health and the need for precaution.

And yet, I too, along with other independent school heads, have many decisions to make and concerns that threaten to keep me awake on any given night. Chief among those is, “How, amidst all the ambiguity, can we carve a path forward to remain faithful to provide an excellent education to our students and families, which is what they rightly expect of us?”

Our schools, short of being either lumped in with public or charter schools on the one hand, or labeled a “non-essential” business on the other, beg to be given the particular attention and focus they deserve.

Moreover, such overgeneralizations represent a significant injustice to the families in Delaware that sacrifice to send their children to private, independent schools. Casting us into either of the aforementioned categories fails to account for the nuance of independent school operations (as compared to public schools or “non-essential” businesses).

It would be exceedingly helpful to recognize the benefit that private schools confer on the State of Delaware and particularly to the people of Delaware, and further, to recognize that without clarity for how we may operate in the near future, many schools run the risk of losing enrollment and worse, seeing operations stalled or completely shuttered. The unfortunate and recent example of All Saints Catholic School announcing its closing should serve as evidence that the concern is real.

Far from the all-too-common narrative of private schools as “elitist,” our communities represent hard working Delawareans (and New Jerseyans, Pennsylanians, and Marylanders) that hold to the fundamental belief that parents and guardians have the right to choose what they believe to be best for their own children. For our part, our teachers and staff have given of themselves wholeheartedly to the task of distance education during this pandemic, continuing what is by anyobjective measure the excellent education we provide in the normal course, with adaptation to the virtual world. I suspect other private and independent schools can truthfully claim the same.

And on that score, what is exceedingly unhelpful is to keep private schools in the dark about the “how” of returning to school in the fall. Gov. Carney, do not forget about the private and independent schools that account for the education of tens of thousands of K-12 Delaware students. Do not fail or neglect to see the need for specific guidance and common-sense  – but as minimally restrictive as possible in the legitimate interest of public health – parameters so that we can plan to have our students back in our classrooms and hallways come August or September. If specifically tailored parameters are set forth, I’ve little doubt that we will creatively and speedily be back up and running with some semblance of pre-COVID-19 normalcy.

Anthony G. Urti is the Head of School at Delaware Valley Classical School in New Castle.