Educators emphasize planning time prior to schools reopening in working group

When schools return to session — in whatever capacity that may be — giving educators enough time to assess students and prepare for any potential drastic changes to the academic year remains a concern.

That, along with how to act and plan before and after students return to school, was embedded in the conversation Wednesday evening during the Academics and Equity working group’s latest meeting. 

“I think certainly the idea around building these essential actions was, if we’re heading in under a minimal spread, in the new dynamic, what are the things we need to do to plan so we can be agile as an organization and shift back and forth to meet the needs of both public health and students academically, with equity in mind?” said Ashely Giska, assistant superintendent for Laurel School District and co-chairperson of the committee. 

This week’s meeting saw the group review a draft of considerations and recommendations that will be presented to the Secretary of Education in early July, spanning from minimal spread where schools are in session to significant spread, where schools are closed once more.

The planning phase — before schools would open to children — was the most robust of the recommendations. The amount of work it was asking of educators to do in a limited amount of time was concerning to some.

Laura Schneider, principal of West Seaford Elementary, said there was the potential to address start dates statewide to provide educators more time to grapple with the different areas these working groups are suggesting. 

“We have to prepare these teachers who were thrown into an ocean with sharks, right? And we did what we could, but it was a lot of bandaids and I think we owe to the teachers and the students to better prepare them. And, again, districts are provided a very slim runway to make that happen,” she said. “We only get a couple days with teachers and then there’s all that other mandatory training that the state has that we have to get done in order to start the year as well. So sometimes it leaves maybe one day for building leaders to get anything done.”

Stephanie Ingram, president of the Delaware State Education Association, agreed, adding that teachers need time to prepare instruction, social emotional learning and any other needs students may have.  

“There’s just not enough time and I do think we need to think about when school is going to open, making sure we count back [and] have the educators be given enough time to adequately prepare for what’s coming their way,” she said. 

In the midst of addressing how much time teachers have to realistically prepare for these concerns, Rep. Kim Williams and Maria Alonso, board president of Academia Antonia Alonso Charter School, expressed concerns about the students who could fall through the cracks: the ones switching districts, transitioning from one school level to another and the homeless students.

While schools being open or schools being closed are straightforward enough in the recommendations, Lisa Lawson, executive director of special education and support services for Brandywine School District, said that the draft recommendations were lacking in specificity for hybrid learning. 

“I wonder if we are going to get any more specific in terms of who’s coming to school and who’s staying home and how is attendance being taken and, yes, staffing should be considered. And, in my head, it’s very hard to think about how we will staff people in a building at the same time we’re staffing people to do remote and have enough staffing to be able to do everything social distancing wise,” she said.

Monica Gant, associate secretary for DOE and co-chairperson of the group, and Mr. Giska said that the vagueness is built around the potential guidance from public health, as well as what the other working groups determine in their meetings.

“Once public health gives us what the parameters are, then we can respond to that,” Dr. Gant said. “That’s what makes this one the toughest. … So we tried to leave it in a way that, based on what the public health guidance is, we can be responsive to it.”

Rebecca Vitelli, 2020 Delaware Teacher of the Year, noted that communicating with parents about how the different scenarios would play out is also important so families can plan for the potential of schools closing or becoming hybrid. 

“This is a lot of information … schools need to prepare families with all three scenarios or all options that are going to happen ahead of time and mention how that’s going to look,” she said.

Dr. Gant agreed, noting that communicating with families is a throughline of the plans.

“We can’t overcommunicate,” she said. 

Health and Wellness meets Tuesdays, the Academics and Equity meets Wednesdays and Operations and Services meets Thursdays. All meetings are scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. and can be streamed on DOE’s Youtube channel. 

Public participation is encouraged, though it will be done virtually. Participants may submit public comments to an email address, reopeningideas@doe.k12.de.us, or by voicemail to 302-735-4244. The department will transcribe the comments and post them online, to the department’s website (www.doe.k12.de.us). The comments will be shared across the working groups.

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