Some districts delaying school start dates

DOWNSTATE — Some students will be getting longer summer breaks, as school leadership prepares for the slew of possibilities coronavirus could bring this academic year.

“I never thought I would say that, that we should start school after Labor Day,” Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, superintendent of Caesar Rodney School District, said in a board meeting Tuesday night. “Last year, when we discussed the calendar, it was not something we wanted to do since it was such a late Labor Day, and now, we’re going, ‘Is it enough time?’ Things have definitely changed, and we are going to maximize the use of the time that you’re going to give us.”

With four members in favor, the Caesar Rodney school board voted to start school for students no earlier than Sept. 8. Member Scott Wilson was absent.

An after-Labor Day start date of Sept. 8 will allow students in the district to complete the number of required hours (1,060) in the classroom, with one day of flexibility. The school board opted to vote that students would start school no earlier than Sept. 8 to allow flexibility to amend the start date later on. A later date would potentially require a waiver for student hours.

The change — which has occurred in several districts that originally planned on a pre-Labor Day start — comes after Gov. John Carney and state Secretary of Education Susan Bunting said in a press conference last week that a formal decision on how students will return to buildings will come in August.

Also last week, the state released a 34-page document of “Returning to School” guidance that specified guidelines for going back to school in three potential scenarios — fully in-person, hybrid with a mix of in-person and remote instruction or entirely remote.

“Our concern is, if the governor makes a decision the second week of August, that only gives us two weeks before school would start, and we do not feel that is enough time to implement everything we need to do,” Dr. Fitzgerald said.

Teachers and staff will still start on their original date, Aug. 20. The change will not affect the amount of days teachers are required by state law to teach.

“This will provide us with the opportunity to provide professional development and to prepare and get reacclimated with school,” he added.

Milford also delays opening
On Monday night, Milford’s school board voted unanimously that they would also push their student start date to after Labor Day.

“I know Sept. 8 is a later start than we typically have,” Milford Superintendent Dr. Kevin Dickerson said at the board meeting, adding that the district wants to “really come back and really make sure we have the time prior to the school year so that we’re ready” in terms of guidance protocols, technology, assessments and other nuances.

Teachers would also maintain their original start time in Milford, Aug. 24, Dr. Dickerson said.

“It would also give us more time to be prepared for students,” he said.

NCCo calendar changes
The changes to the Kent County districts come on the heels of calendar changes in New Castle County. Earlier this month, Appoquinimink voted to push its first student date back to an after-Labor Day start.

The move was commended by the Delaware State Education Association following the release last week of the Delaware Department of Education’s guidance. “(DSEA) suggest(s) that others should consider similar action to allow sufficient time to assess the ability to meet the DOE guidance and prepare for the upcoming school year in whatever form it takes,” a statement from DSEA read.

This week, Brandywine opted to start even later, on Sept. 16.
Dr. Fitzgerald of CR noted that Brandywine starting on a Wednesday may be unusual, but it addresses concerns that were brought forth by board members in the Kent County district, as well.

“By moving the start date to September, I think it does afford us the opportunity to do a multitude of things that will need to be done before the start of the school year,” Dr. Fitzgerald continued. “While I think the (Sept. 8 date) is a doable thing, if the board is willing to move it a little bit farther back, that would probably be a welcome addition, also.”

CR developing plans ‘in earnest’
In his remarks to the board, Dr. Fitzgerald noted that addressing students and families with underlying health conditions or those who don’t believe it is safe to return to school is the biggest concern for the district in designing plans that address the three potential scenarios.

“The same concerns exist for our teachers, (paraprofessionals), cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers, secretaries and even some administrators,” he said. “So, as we move forward with our planning, we know that the best we can hope to develop is a hybrid model, and that’s what we are working on in earnest.”

What that looks like, he added, will be informed by the amount of children coming into school and those who will choose to stay home. Transportation, availability of staff, cleaning and other guidelines will also factor in.
While the state provided guidance, many districts and charters have formed their own planning groups to deliberate how to implement the guidelines laid out.

Previously approved calendars have Lake Forest, Capital and Seaford school districts starting before Labor Day.

Woodbridge, Cape Henlopen, Delmar, Smyrna and Indian River school districts have post-Labor Day start dates.

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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