Capital school board votes for remote start to the school year

DOVER — The Capital School District will begin its year remotely, with the plan to revisit the decision in October, the school board decided Thursday.

The board voted unanimously to continue remote education for a period just over six weeks, also opting to begin its school year for students on Sept. 8, rather than before Labor Day. When the board meets Oct. 20, it will revisit the decision and give parents and staff time to plan for potential changes, said board member Sean Christiansen. 

The decision comes after other school boards gathered virtually to deliberate how their districts would operate in light of Gov. John Carney’s announcement Tuesday that schools could open for hybrid learning, meaning a mix of in-person and remote instruction. 

Also Thursday, Milford school board voted that its district would use remote learning for the first six weeks, while Cape Henlopen school board voted students would head back in a hybrid format.

Capital’s board heard from the school’s reopening committees that targeted Health and Wellness, Academics and Equity, Operations and Services and Human Resources/Personnel/Hiring/Staffing.

“Our recommendation this evening is that we start with something,” said interim superintendent Sylvia Henderson. “I think we need to give our parents, our teaching staff, our 10-month staff some dates and something to go on to get started.”

After kicking off the year remotely, students would potentially begin coming into the buildings in a phased in approach, pending board decision.   

Staff would potentially have three options for beginning their virtual year. Beginning Sept. 8, they could return to classrooms to provide remote learning, telework from their homes to teach, or do a mix.

“We need to make sure our teachers have the materials to be able to deliver virtual learning,” Dr. Henderson said. 

A virtual setting would likely have synchronous and asynchronous opportunities so that students would be able to pick up the work in a schedule that worked for them and their families. A time schedule, which would be grade-level appropriate, would be distributed. 

“From a parent perspective, what we heard [was it was] challenging to have multiple children in a household who had classes at the same time when they were sharing devices, that was one issue,” said Paul Dunford, director of instruction for the district. “The other issue was younger children with classes during the day with parents that had gone back to work. So having a childcare provider who was then responsible for the instruction.”

As the school district gears up for a remote start to the year, the district has already dipped its toes into hybrid instruction with its “summer senator boost” program.

“One of the most important messages that I have from our senator summer boost team is that while the findings are quite positive, scaling the work would be quite challenging,” Mr. Dunford said. “The number of students that we had, the size of the program is a lot of why we were so successful.”

In several surveys, the district collected data from its families about connectivity, device access and preference for returning to school.

The most recent survey has garnered 3,792 responses, with 90% of families said they have internet access and 74 students with no internet. Of families surveyed, 72% said their child has a device other than a smartphone, 410 students with some sharing, 371 students with limited access due to sharing and 266 students with no device.

Earlier in the summer families were closely split between their comfort level for returning to school or not, but there was a preference for remote learning (51%) in the follow up survey.  For those surveyed, 22% were comfortable with face-to-face instruction full time and 27% said they were comfortable with hybrid.

Approximately 50% of families reported that they would be able to provide transportation to and from school for their student, according to the data. 

This story will be updated.