Caesar Rodney officials explain district plan to start school remotely

DOVER — Of all the changes wrought by COVID-19, fewer are more crucial than what’s happening with the education system. Whether they are opening in a total virtual format or with a hybrid of remote and in-person instruction, schools face all sorts of obstacles no one could have imagined a year ago.

The concerns about health and safety are obvious, but there are others as well. For instance, what do teachers with young children and no child care do? That might not be an issue for remote learning, but when the district goes to a mixed format, problems arise.

The Caesar Rodney School District is currently tackling that same problem. Parents and educators in the district tuned in for an online meeting Monday night in which administrators detailed aspects of their plan further, seeking to answer complaints some members of the school board said they had received from residents.

The district will start the year remotely on Sept. 8 and for the next six weeks will stick to that format while also letting small groups of students visit for special instruction. Officials aim to have students begin returning to schools in mid-October, although many obstacles remain.

Individuals will be required to wear masks indoors according to a directive from the state, which has issued general guidelines but is giving districts some flexibility to craft their plans.

Delaware’s 19 school districts are working together to create a consistent attendance policy, Superintendent Kevin Fitzgerald told listeners. That could be completed as soon as Thursday.

Another challenge is keeping students’ attention during remote learning. One solution is requiring students keep their cameras on, Director of Instruction Tara Faircloth said, although she noted some kids may not be comfortable due to their home situation.

“We saw in the spring that when students turn their cameras off engagement went way down,” she said.

One of the main points of discussion in Monday’s meeting was child care for teachers once CR shifts to a hybrid format. Liability issues mean educators with young children cannot keep them in their classrooms while teaching in person, with the district currently facing a lawsuit because of a related incident, according to Dr. Fitzgerald.

CR is working with Boys & Girls Clubs of America to see if children can remain there during the day, he said.

Once students return to schools, classroom sizes will be limited, with between seven and 12 students.

Students would not be in the buildings every day, and even when the district moves to a hybrid model, they would be able to stick to a totally remote system if they choose.

Dr. Fitzgerald emphasized officials want students to be able to learn in person but must still work within the restrictions. The district is taking small steps in the interest of safety rather than moving too quickly and causing an outbreak, he said.

“We want to get our students back in school,” he told the virtual audience. “The goal is before the school year is over we want everyone back.”