Cape Henlopen teachers express no confidence in superintendent, board

LEWES — The Cape Henlopen Education Association has taken a vote of no confidence in the district’s superintendent and school board following the decision that schools would open in a hybrid-learning environment.

“We have lost confidence in the board of education and our district superintendent’s abilities to ensure that our members and students can return to a safe and hazard free environment in the timeline they have laid out,” a statement from the association reads. “Many parts of the approved reopening plan are ambiguous and do not provide consistent standards that will ensure student and teacher safety.”

Lacey Brown, president of CHEA, said the teachers — who have been back since last week, ahead of the students — are prepared to return to their classrooms and teach. This vote is meant to articulate and formalize their concerns.

“Our teachers are both feet in, decorating their classrooms, doing what is expected of them as they are every single year. They are ready to work,” she said. “This is purely about safety in the timeline.”

Among the concerns educators had about returning to in-person school were: teaching face mask safety, mask wearing, social distancing, lack of adequate cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment, ventilation in buildings with windows that don’t open, no directional taping on the floors or signage, Ms. Brown said.

“Teachers are being expected to do the face mask teaching and implementation, along with the cleaning, along with the education and they don’t want to have this kind of safety concern be at the forefront, if they don’t have the correct tools to implement it or the correct teaching,” she said.

The vote comes about a week before the district is scheduled to open its doors to students for the first time since mid-March, when Gov. John Carney ordered all schools to move to remote learning. The first day of school is Sept. 16.

Cape’s plan, which the board voted to adopt Aug. 6, would see students in elementary through fifth grade in school every day, separated by at least 3 feet. For Pre-K and students in grades six through 12, in-person students would come to school two days, and learn remotely for three. All grade levels can learn entirely remotely, if that is parent preference.

“I don’t think an outcome that anybody wants is for us to not go back to school. We know that the students have to go back there,” Ms. Brown said. “We know that [we], as educators, need to be there to help our students given the nationwide pandemic, but the concern of safety is something they have.”

The vote was sent to 459 members of the education association, with 72% of the respondents voting in favor of no confidence. Not all members voted, Ms. Brown said. The number of those who voted was unavailable.

Educators have met with Superintendent Bob Fulton, district staff and members of the board of education about their concerns, but no resolutions had been reached, according to the statement. Ms. Brown said the association was “very, very transparent with them of the confidence level that our teachers have felt.”

“Ultimately at the end of the day, these are the concerns of our members and we, as a leadership team in a union, represent our members’ concerns and the students’ safety and their safety is at the forefront of our minds right now,” she said.

In an email to the association following the vote of no confidence, the school board expressed its disappointment in CHEA’s position.

“Although this is not the situation we wish to be in with our union, we still have confidence in all of our staff, including administrators, teachers and support staff, to provide our students with a safe and successful hybrid school year,” the message continued. “We encourage you and your membership to continue to keep open lines of communication with your building administrators, district office and our board as we move toward welcoming our students back next week.”

Meanwhile, last week, a high school senior filed an action to sue the district because she is unable to attend school in person due to her mother’s health problems and concerns over associated COVID-19 risks.

While in-person students will receive two days of live teacher-led instruction, the lawsuit alleges that the student will receive just one day due to only attending remotely.

Gov. Carney announced in early August that schools could open with a mixture of in-person and remote learning, and school districts around the state were tasked with designing a plan that worked for them.

Plans ran the gamut, but all had to follow the 34-page guidance released by the Delaware Department of Education that addressed mask wearing, social distancing, transportation and cleaning. Some school leadership chose remote starts, with a phased in hybrid approach while others, like Cape, decided to open its doors hybrid from the beginning.

A portion of districts started school this week. Other districts are slated to begin next week.