School reopening decisions continuing

From remote or hybrid learning models, to students starting school in mid-September, local education decisions continue to develop across the state.

The Lake Forest and Delmar school boards determined this week that students would begin their academic year remotely, before transitioning into hybrid models.

The districts also modified their school calendars, with Lake Forest slated to start Sept. 8 and Delmar looking to begin Sept. 16.

Meanwhile, Woodbridge School District decided it would begin the 2020-21 year with both hybrid and fully remote instruction, pushing its start date for students to Sept. 16.

The three districts join the leagues of others in the state determining how they’ll offer courses, following Gov. John Carney’s announcement last week that schools can open with a mix of in-person and remote instruction. Schools are to follow the Delaware Department of Education’s 34-page Returning to School Guidance, which outlines transportation, mask-wearing, social distancing and more.

How school districts do that, though, is up to them.

Other Downstate districts — Capital, Milford, Appoquinimink, Cape Henlopen and Polytech — also announced their plans over the last two weeks. More decisions come next week, with Caesar Rodney scheduled to meet Monday and Tuesday, Smyrna on Wednesday, Seaford on Monday and Wednesday, and Indian River on Wednesday.

Back at Lake Forest, during the week of Oct. 19, students in pre-K, kindergarten and grades one, four, six and nine, will return to school. Grades five, seven and 11 will join in Phase 3, followed by the rest of students in Phase 4. The dates for the latter phases will be determined as conditions allow.

Throughout the remote period beginning after Labor Day, some students will have the ability to come to school for in-person instruction, said Superintendent Dr. Steven Lucas.

“Some of our students’ needs are difficult to meet, to say the least, in the remote environment, and also (for) our students who cannot engage remotely,” he said.

On the flip side, parents who would prefer their children continue remote learning as classes phase to in-person instruction can choose to do so. Per the governor’s orders, Delmar and Woodbridge will also allow for remote instruction, even as they move to in-person learning.

Virtual instruction at Lake Forest will be more robust at the start of the year, running for elementary students from 8:40 a.m. to 3:35 p.m. and secondary students from 7:35 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Attendance will be expected every day. The district has invested in technology, with every student slated to have a device. Many remain unavailable due to high demand, but the district is working on connecting students with technology, Dr. Lucas said.

Delmar’s school board decided that all students in grades five through 12 will be engaged in classes remotely for the first quarter, which ends Nov. 16, according to a post by the district. That district is split between Delaware and Maryland, with the middle and high school in Delaware, under the jurisdiction of the Delmar school board. Students in grades pre-K through 4 attend school in Delmar, Maryland, which is under the jurisdiction of Wicomico County’s school board, meaning that board will determine how school will start for the younger learners.

For Delmar’s Delaware students, hybrid instruction will be phased in, with the start of the second quarter, which begins Nov. 17.

The district plans to release more information regarding returning to school in the coming weeks and will be sending out a technology request form for students who need to borrow a laptop for virtual learning.

“With your support and help, on behalf of the entire Delmar School District, we look forward to the opening of the upcoming school year,” the district wrote.

Meanwhile in Woodbridge, the year will begin with hybrid and remote options.

The district will operate on an “A Week/B Week” schedule. The two cohorts will be determined alphabetically, and approximately 50% of students will attend school during A Week, while the B cohort will remain home and receive remote instruction. The following week, the B cohort students will attend school during B Week.

As the districts navigate a return to school, they are grappling with items like attendance and grading.

Looking to the end of last year’s experience with remote learning, Lake Forest board vice president James Rau said, “It was a struggle.”

“We spent a prolonged period in our third marking period where it was reviewing, but the DOE directive was we’re not allowed to teach new material, and that belly-flopped immensely,” he said. “The fourth marking period went to teaching new material, but there were the challenges of doing it for the first time.”

Dr. Lucas, who joined the district this summer following an administrative tenure in Maryland, agreed that last year was difficult for many educators.

“We all had to do the best that we could with what was given to us and so what, consequently, a lot of school systems did is they just took classroom instruction, and they tried to put it online,” he said. “Then, because we were all trying to sort of feel our way through it, we didn’t really over-demand at the time because we didn’t know what families were going through, what kids were going through. We didn’t know a lot.”

With this year starting remotely, there will be stronger expectations for students to get up as if they’re heading into school, he said. Blocks throughout the day will push synchronous learning. Lessons will have new material; there will be homework and assessments that garner feedback and grades.

“There is going to be a much better concerted and thoughtful effort for deliberate engagement with students to keep situations like that from repeating itself,” he said. “So, we feel confident that our online instruction is going to be tremendously better.”

In Woodbridge, administrative teams will work with teachers to set the “minimum number of expected grades for formative and summative assignments per quarter” in both hybrid and virtual settings.

Attendance will count for students returning to school in the hybrid and virtual settings, according to the district’s reopening plan. The days that students will be in person with their hybrid cohort will be counted toward their attendance. On days that students are in virtual learning and not physically in school, students are expected to participate in live, virtual meetings with their teachers.

As Lake Forest looks to get back in the buildings, data shows that 62% of students will need transportation. The district can get through at least three of its returning-students-to-school phases while still following the guidance released by DOE, Dr. Lucas said.

The district has invested in masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning products, barriers, gloves and shields. Ventilation has been improved in the buildings by doubling air intake and accelerating filter-changing schedules. Masks will be required for all personnel. Hand-washing schedules will be implemented. High-touch areas will be cleaned at least every two hours, and buses will be disinfected after each run.

Similar procedures will become the new normal in Woodbridge: All students in grades K-12 must wear face coverings in the school building. Face coverings should also be worn by children in pre-K. Face coverings will be required for all staff. Cleaning of high-touch surfaces will occur at least every two hours. Staff and students will be asked to bring bottled water or a personal thermos to school as all water fountains will be shut down. The district plans to supply bottled water for students and staff, too.

Like others have this month, Lake Forest board president Earle Dempsey expressed his frustration at the state’s broad guidance earlier this month.

“As a board member, I will say, I know there’s a lot of disappointment here and elsewhere that we are handling this decision as late as we are. … I will express my, frankly, disappointment that the decision in this manner has been pushed down to the local school boards, and that we, as five volunteers, are the ones that are responsible for selecting the decision, selecting that path forward within our community,” he said.

“I believe that if we had known it was going to come to that, we would have addressed this much earlier. … We are not taking it lightly. This board is meeting the challenge head-on.”

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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