Milford School District lays out plans to phase in hybrid instruction

MILFORD — Following a period of remote learning, Milford School District will begin a nine-week process of phasing in hybrid instruction. 

While the phase in process begins late September, all grades won’t be receiving instruction in a hybrid format until mid-November.

The board approved the transition from remote to hybrid learning unanimously Monday evening, during a hybrid school board meeting. The board gathered in the auditorium, with a small in-person audience socially distanced, and streamed the meeting virtually. 

Earlier this month, the district brought forth its plans for a hybrid start, which the board opted to postpone for at least six weeks — following the model many other districts have been taking since Gov. John Carney OK’d schools to open for a mix of in-person and remote instruction earlier this month. 

Local decisions have led to a variety of plans throughout the state. Also Monday, Seaford School District’s board voted to start hybrid, joining Woodbridge and Cape Henlopen, who announced their intentions to begin with some in-person instruction.

Meanwhile, Laurel students will begin remotely, with hybrid instruction beginning with the second quarter Nov. 9. Capital, Lake Forest and Appoquinimink both approved remote starts, with the intention of getting students back to in-person approximately six weeks after the start of school.

Caesar Rodney (Aug. 18), Indian River (Aug. 19), Smryna (Aug. 19) and Sussex Tech (Aug. 20) school boards will all meet to discuss reopening plans this week as well.

In Milford, over the course of about two months, students will slowly return to some in-person instruction, beginning with the students who have complex and special needs.

The district will hand out technology, coordinate meet and greets with educators and provide orientation for remote learning between Sept. 9 and 11. Remote learning will begin in earnest for all grades on Sept. 14. The district would then begin conducting surveys to gauge whether families are interested in having their students return to in-person instruction, or stay remote.

The phase in-plan is entirely dependent on the spread of the coronavirus within the state. 

During the last board meeting, the district explained its hybrid plan would have three cohorts. Cohort A would be in school Monday and Tuesday; Cohort B would be in school Thursday and Friday. Both cohorts would be remote Wednesdays. Cohort C would be fully remote through the week.

On Sept. 21, the district plans to phase-in its students with complex and special needs. 

“We do feel like we had a successful summer school program. We do want to go back and also learn from the summer program as well,” said Superintendent Kevin Dickerson. 

Board member David Vezmar was among those on the board who found that part of the plan particularly positive. 

“I 100% agree that those are the kids that we need to get in a classroom with their teachers as soon as possible,” he said. 

That group of students would be followed by the Pre-K students and complex and special needs students on Sept. 28.

“From a remote perspective, pre-K is very difficult … with the challenges of a pre-K learner, and a lot of the pre-K students that we have do have intense and complex needs,” he said.

The school board is slated to meet Sept. 21, and Dr. Dickerson said they can examine preparedness for hybrid learning prior to bringing in the pre-K students. 

New English learner students would begin hybrid instruction Oct. 5, followed by kindergarten and grades one through three on Oct. 12. The next week, grades four and five would join hybrid instruction. 

Middle and high school would assume hybrid instruction last, after the six-week mark. 

Dr. Dickerson described them as “more challenging,” given the “nature of the courses” as well as “the various courses that a student would have during the day.”

Milford Central Academy is slated for Oct. 26, while high school students wouldn’t start back until Nov. 16, at the beginning of the second marking period.

“We do understand if it’s too many [students], we could start with one day a week. We’re going to make sure again we’re in a safe environment as we begin, as far as any type of bringing students in,” Dr. Dickerson said. “If the number of students don’t really allow us … to have the transitions [of classes] and [make] sure we get through the hallways correctly, those types of things, and keep people safe, we’ll have to reduce the number.”

The district plans to work, as necessary, with students who are: lacking internet connectivity, needing related services during school hours, requiring mental health or counseling services, needing language services or needing school nurse screenings or visits during the remote process. 

That also extends to students completing driver’s education during and after school, small groups of students working together, student organizations and extracurriculars.

“If we had small groups of students — again, obviously going through our administration and making sure we work out all the safety protocols — who need a specific resource, … [we’d] work with students within a certain reason and, making sure again, we follow all the safety and health protocols doing so,” Dr. Dickerson said. 

Meanwhile, the district also delved into what its remote learning will look like to start the year. 

Students will have synchronous and asynchronous classes, with structured school schedules and mandatory attendance. 

Different lessons will include videos, virtual field trips, group discussions and discussion boards and interactive online materials, such as books, games and more.

Work will be graded, and it will garner feedback. Dress code appropriate apparel should be worn during virtual and live sessions.

Jaime Hill, a kindergarten teacher at Morris Elementary School, voiced her support for the district moving to hybrid instruction. 

“There have been many times in education that I’ve been faced with the unknown. There have been many times that I’ve been faced with fear,” she said, recalling her first faculty meeting regarding active shooter drills.

“I remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh my God, you’re kidding me, I have to explain an active shooter drill to a group of 5- and 6-year-olds in a way that is developmentally appropriate and doesn’t fill them with fear?’” she said. “…Guess what, I did it, I shuffled 22 little hearts into the bathroom, and I was able to ease fears, and we moved on. Kids are more accepting and resilient to these situations and we give them credit for.”

Jolene Dickerson, the parent of a sixth and third grade student in the district and a pediatric nurse practitioner for Nemours in Milford, also showed support for in-person instruction. 

“I believe that as things stand now in Delaware, the benefits of in-person instruction outweigh the low risk of disease spread through in-person instruction. First of all, COVID is indeed a very serious illness, and a major public health crisis. We don’t yet have a vaccine, or adequate treatments for the disease. Fortunately, however, we do have the tools and knowledge now to prevent the spread of COVID,” she said, noting face masks and social distancing. 

“I have confidence that the teachers and staff of Milford School District can implement these guidelines safely and effectively in our schools,” she said. “Just like they teach our children to raise their hands before speaking, and to walk quietly down the hallway after forming a line, our teachers and staff can teach our students to wear masks, wash their hands appropriately and maintain social distancing guidelines.”