Lake Forest votes to go remote Dec. 14; Cape Henlopen to remain hybrid

In the day following Gov. John Carney’s recommendation that schools close their doors in mid-December through the holiday season — ultimately leaving it up to the discretion of the school districts and charters — decisions have been made quickly for some Downstate.

Lake Forest, Cape Henlopen, Indian River and Milford school districts were among those who made decisions Friday, following Smyrna and Appoquinimink who determined their plans Thursday.

Statewide, schools have seen 917 positive cases of COVID-19 among students and staff in child-care facilities and public and private K-12 schools.

From the week between Nov. 26 and Dec. 3, the state reported 12 staff and 14 student positives in child care facilities; 22 staff and 66 student positives in private K-12 schools; and 24 staff and 26 student cases in public K-12 schools.

Cumulatively, since Sept. 1, there have been 106 staff and 97 student positives in child-care facilities; 66 staff and 169 student positives in private K-12 schools; and 271 staff and 208 student positives in public K-12 schools.

In his stay-at-home advisory, Gov. Carney emphasized that it is important for students to have that face-to-face instruction, but recommended that schools close their buildings beginning Dec. 14, with the intention of reopening for hybrid learning Jan. 11. School leadership can, however, decide they will remain open, if they can continue to meet the needs of hybrid instruction operationally.

Sussex County

Cape Henlopen decided that it can do just that.

“Please know and understand that we will pivot to 100% remote instruction if, at any time, we experience any significant operational issues, or feel that providing in-person instruction compromises the safety of our students or staff,” Superintendent Bob Fulton said in a statement to families.

The district reported 49 cumulative positive COVID-19 cases between staff and students involved in the hybrid/in-person program, equating to “less than a 1% positive rate,” Mr. Fulton said.

Twenty-seven staff members have been quarantined out of the 1,200 working in the schools. None of those quarantined had tested positive, he said.

“This has been a total team effort, including students, staff and parents/families,” he said. “We could not be providing in-person, hybrid and remote instruction to our 6,000 students without all members of our Cape team doing their part and, in so many cases, going above and beyond to do what is best for our amazing students.”

Indian River decided Friday that it would walk the line between staying entirely open and going entirely remote.

After several members of the community tuned in to voice concern for hybrid — or support of it — the board voted unanimously that it would continue with hybrid learning through Dec. 18 and allow teachers to work remotely and provide asynchronous lectures the week of Christmas before winter break. It will then operate remotely Jan. 4 to 8 to stifle the spread of the virus following the holiday, before resuming hybrid Jan. 11.

The district reported 56 students and 45 staff, for a 101 positive COVID-19 cases.

“This virus is unpredictable. We’re following the measures, we’re — as the governor says — following the science,” said Board President Rodney Layfield. “We’re failing our students. We’re failing our society, by closing it up. I think everyone would agree that the opportunity is there for the students and parents, if they want to, to do remote learning or get into the hybrid model. We’re offering that opportunity. I would like to see us continue on that. Dr. Owens’s plan is a bit of a compromise.”

Board member Donald Hattier agreed.

“I think it is a compromise,” he said. “I think we, as Americans, do have a right to make our choices. If you want your child out, fine. If you want your child in, we should be trying to make that happen.”

Sussex Academy decided to stay in a hybrid model until winter break, scheduled for Dec. 22. They will move to remote learning the week of Jan. 4, and resume in-person instruction Jan. 11

“As many of you are aware, there has been a surge in cases in Sussex County and statewide,” the charter said in a message to families. “It is our priority to keep our community safe including our dedicated faculty and staff, as the virus poses the most threat to their health and wellness.”

Staff will be allowed to teach remotely if they are not comfortable coming into school between until Dec. 22, according to the school.

“This means that although students will be in-person, they may also be required to spend portions of their day learning from their lap-top,” the letter notes.

Students will also no longer eat lunch in their classrooms, but outside or in large common areas such as the gymnasium and cafetorium.

Meanwhile, Laurel and Delmar decided in November to suspend in-person classes until the new year.

Kent County

The recent decisions in Sussex aren’t necessarily reflective of where many Kent districts fell over the past day.

Kent County on Monday became the first to move into the “red” phase, meaning the data indicated significant spread in the county. At the time, Gov. Carney and state officials advised schools remain open and several planned to. Until Thursday, that is.

During an emergency school board meeting Friday, Lake Forest voted unanimously to move to remote learning Dec. 14 until Jan. 11, if conditions allow.

“Up until the middle of last week, positive cases were sporadic and we would go days between positive notifications,” said Lake Forest Superintendent Steven Lucas. “Now we’re having to sometimes make multiple notifications daily. If the current pace of illnesses continue, we just won’t be able to sustain operations.”

The district reported 29 confirmed cases since Sept. 8, consisting of 12 staff, 14 students and three contract employees. He said there hasn’t been any confirmed transmission within the schools.

“Evidence still supports that our schools remain safe and are not sources for either origin or transmission of the virus,” he said.

Still, 26 employees have had to quarantine due to either having COVID-19 or having been exposed to it.

“Given the rate of positive cases and quarantines, Lake schools are more than likely going to soon face staffing challenges, at worst be forced to close schools at least intermittently,” he said, adding that it was important the board be decisive in its decision Friday.

The district has been open in some capacity for months, slowing phasing in different grade configurations. Next week, the district will meet its goal of every student having been given the opportunity to receive face-to-face instruction before the winter break.

The board’s decision ceases all in-person instruction for about a month, including those who have technology gaps or special needs.

Dr. Lucas said the district plans to distribute hot spots and should be in possession of 600 touch screen laptops that will close the technological divide. There has also been discussion about turning some of the schools into internet cafes to allow added instruction.

“We’re going to try to be creative so that we can meet everyone’s needs,” he said.

Before the board cast their votes, board president Earle Dempsey expressed frustration that again the state was leaving these decisions to the boards’ discretion.

“I continue to find it unfortunate that decisions like this keep being pushed down to us in terms of what we are facing as a state, as a nation, as a world with a global pandemic, that things come down to us in terms of recommendations and requests and [we’re] ultimately told it’s your local decision when sometimes it feels like it’s not,” he said.

Earlier this week, Capital opted to go remote until at least Monday, Jan. 4. Caesar Rodney voted to move to remote until Wednesday. The school board will determine a path forward when it meets Monday at 6 p.m.

Milford School District announced Friday in a message to the community that it would continue its hybrid learning model next week for pre-K through grade eight students.

Those grade levels will move to remote learning on Dec. 14 until Jan. 11, following the state’s recommendation.

Milford High School will follow its hybrid learning schedule on Monday, and Tuesday prior to returning to full remote learning on Wednesday. MHS is also expected to transition back to hybrid learning on Jan. 11.

Smyrna and Appoquinimink school districts took it one step further, each deciding to hold their last hybrid day Friday, with remote learning beginning Monday,.

In a letter to families Thursday, Smyrna announced its plan to cease hybrid Monday until Jan. 11.

“On Monday, Jan. 11, our schools are determined to pivot back to our hybrid instructional model in all grades from pre-K to 12,” Superintendent Patrik Williams said in the letter. “As Gov. Carney has noted, our schools are safe places to learn, but we recognize that factors outside of our school are making it difficult for everyone to enjoy in-person instruction right now.”

Lower New Castle County

Appoquinimink’s school board voted 3-2, with board members Kelly Wright and Richard Forsten dissenting, to move to virtual learning Monday. The board is scheduled to meet next week for its regular meeting, where it will be able to discuss the decision in more detail.

The district, located in lower New Castle County, reported 38 staff and 95 student positive cases of COVID-19, cumulatively. Those numbers, superintendent Matt Burrows said, are manageable for the district. The problem, however, is the amount of people quarantining.

The district has had 154 staff members and 563 students who have been quarantined since they began offering in-person classes in October.

“We’re at a point operationally where it’s very difficult for us to operate,” Dr. Burrows said.

The district has 177 substitutes signed up, with 75 willing to come to class.

“Those are maxed out,” he said. “We have had our related arts teachers, our paraprofessionals, our interventionists, we’ve had our administrators in covering classes for teachers. We’re at a point where we don’t have people to cover classes as we move forward and it’s causing a stress on the system.”

Dr. Burrows also emphasized the level of cases in the Middletown area.

“If you look at the map, the Middletown area is a hotbed for the coronavirus right now. We stand out on the map,” he said. “We like to stand out in Middletown, Townsend, Odessa, but this is not something that we definitely want to stand out in.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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