Working groups begin planning for reopening schools

Three working groups will begin meeting next week to determine recommendations to advise the Delaware Department of Education on reopening schools. Thursday, the groups came together in an introductory meeting. Secretary of Education Susan Bunting welcomes members of the groups during a livestream.

DOVER — From health, to operations, to equity, three working groups will begin their mission next week to devise recommendations in anticipation of students heading back to school in the fall — in whatever manner that may be.

“The work of the three working groups couldn’t be more critical,” Secretary of Education Susan Bunting said during the livestream. “As you know, returning to school in periods of normalcy is challenging. And doing so in the face of COVID-19 public health epidemic, with extreme uncertainties, will be monumentally difficult.”

The working groups came together Thursday for their first meeting to outline goals and expectations as the groups begin a month full of meetings to develop ideas.

Beginning Tuesday, the groups are scheduled to meet every week through June. The Health and Wellness working group will meet Tuesdays, Academics and Equity will meet Wednesdays and Operations and Services will meet Thursdays. (Academics and Equity and Operations and Services will also meet in the first week of July.)

All meetings are scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. will be open to the public virtually.

The Health and Wellness working group is chaired by Mike Rodriguez, associate secretary of DOE, and Meghan Walls, pediatric psychologist at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children.

Academics and Equity is chaired by Monica Gant, associate secretary of DOE, and Ashley Giska, assistant superintendent of Laurel School District.

Operations and Services is chaired by Chuck Longfellow, associate secretary of DOE and Oliver Gumbs, director of business operations for Cape Henlopen School District.

The members of these working groups range from educators, to students, to parents, to members of the state legislature. The final recommendation is slated to arrive to DOE by early July, so the ideas can be processed, Dr. Bunting said.

“Having talked frequently with our superintendents, we know that the sooner we can get these ideas and the plan out to schools, the more feasible it is that those plans can be fully implemented in time for the beginning of the school year, whatever way that beginning of the year happens to be planned,” she continued.

The committee is not to decide when schools will return to school, but to create a framework that is put into place by district and charter school leadership when schools are permitted to reopen.

“Specifically, our goals will be to establish role clarity so that superintendents, school leaders and educators understand their roles and responsibilities in executing a safe, equitable and effective return to school,” Dr. Bunting said.

The working groups will consider several public health scenarios for the start of the school year: minimal community spread, with school buildings open; minimal-to-moderate community spread, which will be situation dependent whether schools can open; and significant community spread, where school buildings remain closed.

“Essential actions within each of these scenarios that need to be addressed by district and charter leaders, first before school opens and when school is open and operating, is where we will focus our attention in each meeting,” said Christine Alois, deputy secretary for DOE.

The working groups will be collaborating with Opportunity Labs, a national nonprofit. The organization developed the Return to School Roadmap, which was in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Leadership from Opportunity Labs will be partnered with the working groups to provide “subject matter expertise, support facilitation and help move each group to final recommendation,” said Dr. Alois.

The first livestream, hosted on YouTube, drew more than 650 viewers — an enthusiastic response from the community that crashed the previous platform the department used in its first attempt for the kick off meeting last week.

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, said Dr. Alois.

Dr. Bunting said that the working groups were made with an effort to reflect the diversity of the state.

“We certainly hope that the members of our working groups will be in contact with various groups and community members and bring back the input that they gather,” she said. “So we’ve diligently tried to make sure that we reflect on the picture of Delaware, the picture of Delawareans, and yet we know that we can always have as much representation of certain voices as others. So through our system of gathering information, we hope to even have a greater voice from diverse members of our community.”


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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