Caesar Rodney moves to remote classes for a week

Caesar Rodney School District students will move to remote learning for a week, joining Capital and Milford in the decision to suspend in-person instruction, at least temporarily, after data released by the state indicated “significant community spread” of COVID-19 in Kent County.

In Caesar Rodney, remote learning will begin Wednesday and continue through Wednesday, Dec. 9, the district said in a news release.

“This decision was made only after significant discussion and debate, and with the safety and health of all district students and staff in mind,” Superintendent Kevin Fitzgerald said in a prepared statement. “It is our hope that by next week there will be more information available to allow the Board of Education to determine a more long-term plan for students and teachers. A further evaluation will be made by the Board of Education at that time.”

Capital suspended hybrid learning for all students until Jan. 4, while Milford paused in-person classes Tuesday to evaluate its plan forward (students are typically remote Wednesdays under their current plan).

“It is understood that this pause in hybrid instruction is a disruption to families and students,” Dr. Fitzgerald said. “Please understand that the CRSD is operating with the goal to keep the virus spread to an absolute minimum. We are, and will remain, connected to the Division of Public Health, the Department of Education and the Governor’s Office for guidance on how to operate.”

The districts’ decisions come as the criteria for school reopening moved to the “red” phase in Kent County, but the closure was not mandated by the state. Gov. John Carney said in a statement Monday — shortly after Capital announced it would move to remote learning — the state still advised schools have hybrid instruction.

Also in Kent County, Lake Forest, Smyrna and Polytech school districts intend to continue offering in-person instruction.

“Keep in mind, students have the ability to opt into remote-only instruction at any point if they feel the need,” Polytech Superintendent Amelia Hodges said in a message to families. “We also feel the need to continue as much in-person learning as possible in order to support our students’ social and emotional needs, their need to access related services, and CTE hands-on instruction.”

In Smyrna, Superintendent Patrik Williams said the district is reviewing the data frequently and will continue to provide a hybrid option as they do so.

“If/When the time comes for us to ‘pivot,’ we won’t hesitate to move to a virtual instructional model,” he said. “As of today, right now, we do not believe it is time to do so.”

Statewide, the reopening criteria uses three categories — new case rate per 100,000 people, weekly average of percentage of tests which are positive and average daily hospitalizations per 100,000 people. Kent County has its new case rate per 100,000 at 277.1, above the 100.0 need to be yellow, and its percent-positive rate at 8.3%, just above the cutoff for yellow at 8.0%.

The state opted to use those three criteria because one metric “was not enough to really paint a picture of exactly what’s going on with the pandemic,” Dr. Rick Hong, medical director for the Division of Public Health, said during Tuesday’s press conference.

“We included three metrics that would address the acuity, that would address our testing capacity and address spread or number of cases,” he said. “We understand cases are increasing, our numbers are going the wrong direction and we need to make sure we are doing the right thing to maintain the safety within the schools and not making a quick decision without looking at trends.”

Delaware uses statewide data to make recommendations about school openings/closures, said Jen Brestel, a spokeswoman for the DPH.

Meanwhile, Delaware State Education Association raised concerns Tuesday about Kent County’s community spread and called on the state for more transparency about the COVID-19 data it releases.

Each Monday, the state updates its data regarding community spread and how that impacts school openings. On Friday, it releases aggregate numbers on how many positive cases there have been in child care facilities and public and private K-12 schools impacting staff and students.

In a statement, DSEA President Stephanie Ingram commended Capital, Caesar Rodney and Milford for pausing in-person learning as the districts established next steps.

“We have been told that our schools are a safe place to be,” she said. “Stop telling us and start showing us by sharing all data and information regarding positive cases connected to schools, the results of contact tracing in terms of the number of identified close contacts required to quarantine and a clear indication of whether any transmission is occurring within our schools. It is also time for the state and districts to double down on their commitment to comply with all health and safety directives.”

She called for transparency in what conditions would prompt the state to advise all schools return to remote learning.

“Educators, students, their families and their communities have the right to know what to expect, and more importantly, what to prepare for,” she said. “We need the time to ensure a smooth transition back to remote learning, which is exactly where the data shows us heading.”

In his press conference Tuesday, Gov. Carney addressed those concerns, stating that the criteria to determine whether schools should close is “all of the above” — “the context locally as well as the context statewide.”

“Schools themselves are safe places and not places where there is much spread,” he said. “The spread happens outside of schools and affects the operational needs of schools and classrooms. We also know that teachers and students and staff are doing a great job following the restrictions operationally right now.”

The state, he added, can’t release hyper-specific data.

“I think there’s a difference between transparency at a more global level and transparency at a micro level,” he said. “The fact of the matter is, we’re limited in the data we can share at a census tract or ZIP code level just by HIPAA restrictions if the numbers are very low. We’re constrained by the numbers we can use.”

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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