Health group discusses protocols of Delaware schools reopening

What social distancing would look like with class in session was the topic of discussion for the second week of the Health and Wellness reopening working group Tuesday night.

“In looking at what we talked about before, with scenario one, in a perfect world, it would be what we would have if we were opening,” said Kevin Fitzgerald, superintendent of Caesar Rodney School District. “…This is the [scenario] we need to spend the most time on. This is the one that currently exists. This is the one that in all likelihood I’m going to have to deal with, unless things get a lot better or a lot worse.”

Kevin Fitzgerald

The conversation was focused on scenario two, minimal to moderate spread of coronavirus in the community, where schools opening is situation dependent. Tuesday’s meeting was part one of two, with the group to discuss and refine other potential protocols next week that could also be recommended in a scenario two environment.

While in scenario one there were limited changes to day-to-day functioning, scenario two looks more familiar to what Delawareans have been experiencing: social distancing, limiting numbers of those able to gather, dividing the flow of those walking one way and those walking another.

Working group members discussed different facets of potential recommendations, including desks separated by 6 feet and all desks would be arranged in the same direction, class sizes kept at 20 students or less and, if all students can’t fit into the classroom space available, alternative dates of attendance or virtual teaching be implemented.

Additionally, in the halls, social distancing — and floor markers — would be implemented, along with facial coverings.

How feasible these different steps are was emphasized by working group members.

Emma Brower, a student representative from Sussex Tech, said, when picturing her labs and hands-on classes, there is a lot of movement.

“I’m thinking about the time I spent in a desk this year and it’s like little to none,” she said. “Not only for my technical area that I chose, but all the technical areas that you spend two hours a day in, you actually leave the classroom and you go and do a hands-on thing or some kind of certification or credit for that.”

Dr. Marisel Santiago, director of pediatrics at La Red Health Center, noted that cutting down class sizes would pose difficulties for overcrowded schools in her area.

She added that her community is composed of a lot of undocumented people.

“Just keep in mind that kind of population, please, because they’re the most vulnerable,” she said. “They live in houses with a lot of people together. So this is one of the populations that it is very, very high risk.”

While state Rep. Valerie Longhurst commended the effort put into creating the framework the group discussed, she warned “it all looks perfect, if you had a Christmas gift and it was wrapped in a pretty bow.”

“I’m trying to figure out, as I look through all of this — like I said — it’s like a gift that’s perfectly wrapped in this beautiful bow but when you open it up, who is doing all this stuff? Are we considering that as we go through this?” she said.

Dr. Fitzgerald agreed that looking at all of the protocols was “overwhelming.”

“It looks quite daunting,” he said. “…We certainly don’t have the psychologists. We don’t have the guidance counselors. We don’t really have enough nurses to actually implement everything that we see that we need to take place in order to guarantee the wellness of all of our students. So we understand there are challenges moving forward. We’re trying to also make sure that we provide for the curricular needs.”

Dr. Meghan Walls of Nemours Children’s Health System, who serves as a co-chair for the working group, said the tasks of the groups are figuring out the “what” of the frameworks. It’ll be up to school leadership to figure out the “how” of implementing it.

“If the ‘how’ is, ‘We’re not going to be able to do this,’ then we might have to move more to talking about more virtual learning again,” she said. “I think we have to take those things into consideration as we move. Because I think you’re exactly right. Our goal is to figure out ‘what’ and then, ‘Can it happen?’ And if it can’t happen safely, how do we move forward otherwise?”

The Health and Wellness working group will meet Tuesdays, Academics and Equity will meet Wednesdays and Operations and Services will meet Thursdays. All meetings are scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. and can be viewed on the Department of Education’s YouTube page.

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.