Hybrid learning will resume for Caesar Rodney Jan. 11

CAMDEN — Caesar Rodney students are slated to resume in-person classes Monday, following the governor’s recommendation.

The school board voted, 4-1, to approve the return to hybrid instruction on Jan. 11, with Joyce Denman dissenting. 

Come next week, it’ll be about a month since most Delaware public school students have had in-person learning. In early December, Gov. John Carney recommended that schools pause hybrid instruction — unless they weren’t facing operational challenges — over the winter holidays, running from Dec. 14 to Jan. 11.  

Many followed the guidance; some modified it to fit their districts. 

Delaware’s reopening schools criteria — which tracks three metrics: average daily hospitalizations per 100,000 people, new cases per 100,000 people and percent of positive tests — has shown significant spread of the virus statewide since the end of November. 

While the metrics has been trending downward since mid-December, data released by the state Monday reflecting Dec. 19-25 showed an uptick in two categories: 452.9 new cases per 100,000 people; 9.3% of tests that are positive. Average daily hospitalizations per 100,000 people decreased slightly, to 42.8.

“My concern is that the data we’re looking at today is not really any different than the data was back in March when we decided to close and right before the holidays when we decided to go full remote,” Dr. Denman said. “The data is still (significant) community spread. I’m concerned about that, especially since we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, with the vaccinations and the teachers are in the next group.”

While board member Jessica Marelli said she worried about the number of COVID-19 cases in the community, she felt it was the best option to follow the governor’s guidance and return students to school. Board member Dave Failing suggested pushing the hybrid start back by another week.

“It’s a lot easier to go back to remote than it is to switch back to hybrid,” said board member Scott Wilson. “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.”

The governor’s recommended pause was meant to help schools if they were suffering operational strain due to educators being out after testing positive for COVID-19 or quarantining. Many did cite concerns for operations stemming from the amount of people out.

“Those individuals who impacted operations are eligible to return to in-person, so that gives us the flexibility we did not have before the holidays,” said Superintendent Kevin Fitzgerald.

He added that, moving forward, the district could limit closures to the schools impacted by operational strain, rather than district-wide, if applicable.

 “If we can keep kids in school, I think that’s in everybody’s best interest and I would like to see that happen,” he said. 

Educators — teachers, custodians, secretaries, cafeteria employees, bus drivers, etc. — will be in the next group to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Phase 1B, but the timeline is still hazy, Dr. Fitzgerald said.

During a press conference last week, Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the DPH, said she expects Phase 1B to start in the middle or end of January.

Dr. Fitzgerald said that the district is being asked to develop a plan, but is awaiting more information.

“We’re not quite there yet, as far as the vaccine stage is concerned, and I am concerned that if we wait until the vaccine is completely rolled out to all of our staff, that it may take us a far longer period of time than just the rest of this month,” he said.