Delaware teachers association emphasizes local control after state’s recommendation for hybrid learning

DOVER — After state officials urged schools to reopen in a hybrid fashion next week, the state teachers association emphasized that those decisions remain at the local level.

“The options provided by the Governor’s office are just recommendations,” Stephanie Ingram, Delaware State Education Association president, said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “School boards and superintendents know their district’s capabilities and make the final decisions concerning their handling of operational, health and safety concerns and whether they can continue or begin hybrid instruction.”

On Tuesday, Gov. John Carney, the Delaware Division of Public Health and the Delaware Department of Education advised that schools follow his earlier guidance. 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.

Ms. Ingram wrote in her statement that, before the holidays, local education association leaders met with Secretary of Education Susan Bunting, her staff and district administrations “to address concerns around operational or safety issues within their district.”

“Unfortunately, we don’t know if those concerns have been fully addressed, but we do know that the numbers continue to rise across our state,” she said, adding that educators are continuing to “follow the guidance released by DOE.”

“We keep hearing ‘in person learning is best,’” she said. “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.

“If there is doubt, we ask that schools remain in the remote setting for the safety of staff and students,” she said.

Those local decisions are being made this week, with many following the state’s recommendation.

Caesar Rodney’s school board met Monday, voting to resume hybrid classes next week. Appoquinimink’s board met Tuesday, upholding their decision to return Jan. 11, as well. Other districts — like Smyrna, Laurel and Milford — announced their intentions to reopen Jan. 11 in posts online.

In Appoquinimink and Caesar Rodney, boards and school leadership discussed responding to future operational challenges at the school level, rather than at the district level, if applicable. If one school was facing difficulties with staffing due to quarantines or positive cases, that school could move to remote learning, rather than the whole district doing so.

“If, three or four weeks from now, it looks like maybe we have to make adjustments, that’s what we’ll have to do,” said Appoquinimink board member Richard Forsten on Tuesday. “That’s all we can ever do. But I don’t think we should hesitate at this moment, at this time, based on the data that we know now, not to reopen in hybrid.”

It was a similar sentiment in Caesar Rodney.

“It’s a lot easier to go back to remote than it is to switch back to hybrid,” Caesar Rodney board member Scott Wilson said. “If we go hybrid on the 11th, and between now and then, something goes terribly wrong, we can always go back to remote. We’ve got to stop kicking this can down the road.”

With the data and continued mitigation efforts, Smyrna Superintendent Patrik Williams wrote, “We know that the best place for our children to learn is in each of our schools.”