CR hybrid attendance down; Appoquinimink lacking substitutes

With schools back in session for in-person instruction after the state recommended a hybrid hiatus, Caesar Rodney School District is seeing a decline in in-school students’ attendance and Appoquinimink is still facing a need for substitutes.

Until this week, Caesar Rodney students had been remote since early December, after data released by the state showed significant spread of COVID-19 in Kent County. The state has since changed its metrics for school reopenings.

CR buildings reopened Monday to hybrid learning, following the governor’s recommendation to pursue that route.

While students are still Zooming into classes, principals at all grade levels reported seeing a dip in those opting to use hybrid learning.

“We’ve had some families reach out and opt to go full remote, and then, we have had some families (choosing) to not necessarily stop hybrid learning but asking for a pause just until the numbers on the state’s dashboard kind of level out a little bit,” said Caesar Rodney High School Principal Dr. Sherry Kijowski at a school board workshop Tuesday night.

The state has moved to a new way of tracking COVID-19 cases in schools, now offering a look at the amount of positive cases for in-person learners and staff members at the district and charter level.

Cumulatively, between Sept. 1 and Jan. 1, the state reports Caesar Rodney as having less than 11 positive COVID-19 cases for students and 23 for staff.

Principals at elementary schools and middle schools said they, too, were facing dips in in-person attendance.

Fred Fifer III and Postlethwait middle schools have similar attendance, with between 60%-70% of students who are enrolled in hybrid coming to school. The rates at Air Base Middle School are slightly higher, sitting between 80%-90%, said Kris Failing, principal of Postlethwait Middle School.

“We are lucky that our kids are still Zooming in, so they’re still getting their attendance marked, and they are learning,” she said.

For those who are in school, though, Dr. Kijowski said that there have been no issues with mask-wearing or social distancing.

“It was really nice to see people back in the building,” she said. “It was nice to see some people doing labs in a science class or cooking in the culinary class and getting some hands-on experiences now that we’re kind of rolling back into the building.”

Child nutrition staff continue to distribute meals for those in remote learning, serving between 35,000 and 39,000 meals a week at 11 different sites, said Paul Rodgers, child nutrition supervisor.

In school, he said, it appears more students are arriving with packed lunches.

“It was a very smooth opening,” he said.

Meanwhile, Superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald said the district anticipates more guidance about vaccinating educators “in the next week or so,” with distribution beginning in late January or early February.

School nurses were able to be vaccinated alongside first responders in Phase 1A.

“We’re excited to see that process begin,” he said. “It demonstrates a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Appoquinimink School District
Appoquinimink also welcomed its students back to in-person learning this week, after it closed its buildings in early December due to operational strain, with staff absent due to either COVID-19 diagnoses or quarantining after potential exposure. At the time, district officials also highlighted a lack of substitutes to fill in the gaps.

With classes underway in person once more, Superintendent Dr. Matt Burrows said during Tuesday’s school board meeting that it was a “super-exciting day” to see staff and children back in the buildings.

“We had a great first day,” he said.

That said, the district is looking at gaps in coverage. While the district has substitutes, “we always need more,” he said.

“I was at a building (Monday) where teachers were covering during (planning time),” he said. “I had administrators covering. I had interventionalists covering. We’re at that point on Day One.”

He urged the community to continue mitigation strategies for COVID-19, such as mask-wearing, social distancing and hand hygiene.

“It’s going to require the whole team to be working together (for) this to be a success,” he said.

Appoquinimink has reported less than 11 cases of COVID-19 for students between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1. The district reported no cases for staff in that same window.

Knocking on wood, Dr. Burrows said he hopes that the district won’t have to close schools again and that there are different responses for each level.

For elementary students, the district could quarantine classrooms — which they have done before, he added — or a grade. Last resort, he said, would be closing the building.

Similarly, for the middle schools, he said actions could include quarantining a “team,” a grade level and then the building.

The district’s high schools, though, are a “unique animal.”

“Everyone has a different schedule and has different things within their schedule,” he said. “It’s not like you have the same four teachers, and the same group of kids are going to those four teachers. If we got into the unfortunate situation where … we couldn’t operate, we would have to shut down the high school.”

Regardless, though, Dr. Burrows said he’s hopeful as the buildings resume in-person classes.

“We’re striving to keep everything open,” he said.