Capital students to head back to school next week

DOVER — Capital School District students will return to school next week, the school board decided Wednesday.

Students in pre-K through grade eight and the district’s special programs, Kent County Community School and Kent County Intensive Learning Center, will return to school Monday. Dover High students will return to school Thursday.

“Operationally, we don’t think Dover High can open up until Thursday,” said Interim Superintendent Sylvia Henderson. “Operationally, pre-K to eight can open on Monday.”

The board voted to approve the plan 3-2, with board members Chanda Jackson-Short and John Martin dissenting. 

The district is the latest to follow Gov. John Carney and the state’s guidance to resume hybrid instruction next week. 

In early December, he had recommended that buildings close to in-person learning from mid-December to mid-January during the winter holidays if administrations were facing operational challenges, but reopen to hybrid instruction Jan. 11.

This week, the state updated its criteria for tracking school reopenings, relying on district- and charter-level data, rather than three categories tracking new positive cases, percent of positive tests and daily hospitalizations.

“What’s different?” Dr. Jackson-Short said regarding the rate of COVID-19 positives in the state and community. “What I see different is the metrics or the guidelines that we’re following and that’s concerning to me because that sounds a little more like manipulation to me — not that that’s … my colleagues’ fault. I just don’t understand and I’m having a hard time trying to process that.”

Board member Joan Engel said that children would be safer in school. She said that the kids in her neighborhood “are really not in school.”

“I don’t think that my neighborhood is unique. I think there are lots of neighborhoods where kids are really not,” she said. “The kids aren’t getting any kind of social and emotional support. They could live in homes where there’s violence. They could live in homes where they’re just neglected. The only kind of connections many kids make is in school. In terms of that, it’s safer.”

The district has 32 staff members out due to positive COVID-19 results or due to quarantining. Almost all of them will be back by Monday, said Mary Cooke, human resources director. 

Board member Tony DePrima called the back and forth “chaos.”

“Those chaotic situations where you’re hybrid, now you’re remote, you’re hybrid, now you’re remote — I’ve had teachers tell me that, in itself, that chaos, that change in itself causes damage and is a huge setback,” he said. “While I’m going to support this plan, it may be the last time. If we’ve got to close down because of numbers, I’m not sure I can support coming back again.”

Capital had paused its hybrid learning in early December district-wide. The district began phasing in hybrid instruction in November beginning with younger students. Secondary students haven’t been in-person this year yet.

Capital is the latest to make its own local determination of where it falls in adhering to Gov. Carney’s guidance. On Wednesday, the Delaware State Education Association called on local boards and superintendents to monitor the health of their communities before making decisions.

“We keep hearing ‘in person learning is best,’” DSEA President Stephanie Ingram said in a prepared statement. “But, with infection rates increasing we have seen how the rate of teachers needing to quarantine and the lack of substitutes is affecting in person learning. We do not believe that environment better serves our students than a consistent remote instruction would.”

Ms. Ingram asked that boards and superintendents “take a hard look” at the spread of COVID-19 in their local communities and collaborate with their local unions before determining their district’s status.