Face masks, hybrid schooling discussed by reopening working groups

Conversations spanning children wearing face masks, managing athletics and keeping hybrid schooling possibilities equitable continued as the reopening schools working groups wrapped up their third week of discussions.

The working groups were continuing conversations from last week about what school would look like under a minimal to moderate spread scenario, which could see significant changes to typical operations.

In this scenario, schools opening would be situation dependent and could include temporary closures or hybrid scenarios — where students are learning through in-person and virtual components.

In the Health and Wellness group, discussions focused on considerations regarding screening students and responding to positive cases in both student and staff, in addition to dining and gathering and athletics.

Perhaps one of the bigger changes would be dining, where it is suggested that students eat in classrooms if possible and school meals should be delivered to those classrooms. Otherwise, meals in cafeterias should be staggered, with six feet of distance between students.

“In the schools I’ve worked, they’ve been at capacity. Several of these things are going to be really difficult decisions for schools to make,” said Stacy Greenly, a counselor at Polytech High School. “In my school we already have three lunches, we may need to have six lunches to space students out.”

But, Dafne Carnright, family services program manager for Autism Delaware, pointed out that those extra time slots would need to be at fair lunch times.

“Adding extra lunches may mean that we either need to find other spaces for kids to eat lunch or kids will be eating lunch at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. and parents have long had concerns that, ‘In order to be ready for learning, my kid cannot be hungry,’” she said. “And so if you try to make extra lunches, amongst a bunch of other concerns to make that happen, we need to not forget that kids can’t eat lunch at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. and there’s only so much time in the school day and space within the building.”

Sue Smith, a nurse at Mispillion Elementary, noted that one of the biggest concerns is cleaning. If schools open up other alternatives, like having meals in classes, the gym, hallways or large entry ways, they still need staff to sanitize after the meals.
“There’s just a lot, without a lot of staff power,” she said.

Outside of dining, gathering in this scenario would see less than 50 students together at once, with no parents or grandparents permitted. Off-site field trips would be discontinued.

Athletics, and what would be feasible in this scenario, was debated. While the suggestions state that some sports can be permitted, like golf, track and field and non-close-contact sports, others like football, wrestling, basketball would not.

“Athletics and mental health go hand-in-hand for a lot of students,” said Ms. Greenly. “There’s a lot of students who are really depressed right now, they lost maybe their senior season of high school, they lost some time, they have goals and ambitions and not getting to do athletics is affecting their mental health.”

Others pointed to the disparate rules between different sports. State Rep. Mike Smith noted that some students rely on scholarships in their athletics and this could have an impact. Whatever the outcome of recommendations, though, State Sen. Anthony Delcollo said that he defers to science and data for whether sports should be permitted, but this can’t be an arbitrary process for determining what can and can’t happen in this scenario.

“The reason I say this is because I’ve heard the examples, and I can’t respond critically to these examples because there’s certainly logic to them, that people can golf but that a very, very large facility like some furniture outlets couldn’t at the same time have appointments and aggressive cleaning and social distancing does not hold up to scrutiny from the view of the public or from the view of just basic common sense,” he said.

Having children wear masks was another hurdle in the discussion. Suggestions would be that students wear them at all times, except for meals. Privacy or barrier screens should be placed on desks.

Policing facemasks and potential disciplinary action will be difficult, noted Caesar Rodney School District Superintendent Kevin Fitzgerald.

“I certainly understand the science behind this and I certainly support the science behind the facemask and understand it, but I think that this particular recommendation is almost impossible to enforce. I think that it puts schools and administrators and teachers in a very difficult position,” he said. “We’ve heard the challenges of perhaps a kindergarten student having a facemask, we hear about our special needs students who may not be able to wear facemasks. What recommendation will the committee make when a student at the middle school or high school level simply says, ‘I’m not going to wear a facemask,’ or ‘I don’t want to do that’?”

On the other side of things, the Operations and Services working group’s conversation kept cycling to what to do about students having to leave the building for extended closures or splitting into a hybrid schedule.

Jeff Taschner, executive director for the Delaware State Education Association, said that there are certain items educators take for granted that their students may have: pencils, paper, etc.

“It would probably be smart to prepare ahead of time to have educators and districts identify, if we have to go from in person to a moderate community spread situation where we’re having short term dismissals and/or we’re going to remote learning, what are the consumables we’d normally be giving kids in school that they’ll need at home? Do we have them readily available and how do we deliver them?” he said.

“I think about this year when we were in school and on March 13 people went home for a weekend and they never went back and the difficulty in making sure kids had the consumables and the support and resources,” he continued.

Oliver Gumbs, co-chairman of the committee and director of business operations for Cape Henlopen School District, said that perhaps school leadership should meet with their chief financial officers to determine the budgeting because this year could mean different financial demands.

Creative solutions of how to teach students if half are in school and half are at home were also at play. Stacey Clark, director of instruction and student services at First State Military Academy, and Kristine Bewley, manager of information systems at Red Clay Consolidated School District, suggested alternatives: teachers utilizing webcams for streaming, DVDs for giving out class instruction or thumb drives.

Meanwhile, Academics and Equity weighed what a strong instructional start to the year would look like for students and teachers.
Members pointed to making sure the start of school is individualized for the students, building in more instruction time for educators and diverse instructional materials and delivery methods.

“I hope we think about process and what I mean by that is we have really solid orientation for parents, for teachers, so that they understand the rules, the expectations at the beginning of the year because it’s going to be a rolling kind of year and I hope we really give time to process which means we need to be connecting, communicating and consistent in whatever we decide,” said Maria Alonso, board president for Academia Antonia Alonso Charter School.

Allison Castellanos, an ESL professor at Delaware Technical & Community College, agreed, noting that open house opportunities for parents where they can learn the different online models teachers turned to during remote learning would be helpful.
Caitlyn Thomas, the student representative, said that support for students goes miles.

When conversation turned to which students would stay home and which would return to school in a hybrid scenario, Ms. Thomas asked how do they choose?

“That’s not equitable itself,” she said. “Personally as a student of course I want to be back in class. I would feel a certain type of way if I knew some of my classmates were and I wasn’t.”

She said that, in her school, there were even and odd days and students could have corresponding days where they are in the building and home.

Ashley Giska, assistant superintendent of Laurel School District and co-chairman of the committee, said other groups are certainly considering that.

“Those synchronous learning experiences are valuable for students — every student — and that’s something that does have to be factored into our equity conversations,” he said.

Health and Wellness meets Tuesdays, the Academics and Equity meets Wednesdays and Operations and Services meets Thursdays. All meetings are scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. and can be streamed on DOE’s Youtube channel.

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.

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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