Capital will pursue state support for middle school damaged in tropical storm

DOVER — After William Henry Middle School faced significant damage by Tropical Storm Isaias in August, the Capital School District will pursue getting financial support from the state for the building.

The school board voted 4-0, with Chanda Jackson-Short absent, to pursue funding opportunities through the state Tuesday night. In the interim, when the district moves to its hybrid model next month, students and educators will be relocated to Central Middle School.

William Henry, located on Carver Road, serves 1,100 fifth and sixth grade students in the district.

When Isaias careened through Delaware over the summer, it impacted two sections of the middle school’s roof, causing water to get into the building, officials said at an August board meeting.

Panels on top of the gym’s roof were opened and, in the lobby area, near the library, the entire roof was lost in both spaces. The Office of the Fire Marshal deemed the building unsafe, but the district expressed its intentions of preserving the school.

With the district open only remotely right now, the impact to the building hasn’t yet been felt by its students. With the possibility of phasing in a hybrid model this fall, that is subject to change.

“What makes us different from some other of the school districts is we have a school offline,” school board member Tony DePrima said in September. “Right now, it kind of works sharing a room when it’s virtual, because you have two teachers shifting off and on in a room if they even want to come in. … But when you have a hybrid, I think there’s going to be some real issues sticking two schools into one building.”

As the district proposed its hybrid plan, William Henry students will be in the east wing of Central Middle School, with each building’s teachers sharing rooms with their colleagues. Students will get two days of in-person learning. Approximately 37% of William Henry would be hybrid, with 32% of Central Middle hybrid, as well, based on parent commitments.

“Right now, given the numbers, we can do it,” Charles Sheppard, principal for William Henry, said Tuesday.

Previously, Interim Superintendent Sylvia Henderson had also said the district looked into options to rent an off-campus space in the event that William Henry was not ready for students to return.

The damage from the storm is still being felt months later statewide. Earlier this month, federal disaster assistance was made available to Delaware to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by the storm.

Federal funding is available to the state, eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by Tropical Storm Isaias in Kent County, according to a news release.

Over the summer, William Henry served as one of the sites for the district’s Summer Boost Program, where they piloted a hybrid initiative.

William Henry was originally the William Henry Comprehensive High School, the only high school for Black students in Dover. It opened in September 1952 and was founded during segregation. The school closed after the 1965-66 school year, after the Supreme Court ruling to integrate schools.

The school’s namesake is William W.M. Henry, the first Black physician in Dover.

In September 1967, the high school became William Henry Middle School and opened to fifth and sixth grade students.