More Delaware school districts to start hybrid learning

More in-person classes begin Monday for several districts under hybrid learning, while Indian River is fast-tracking the phase-in process — representing more shifts in the continuing evolution of education within the state of Delaware.

“This is all new. There may be some mistakes or some errors made along the way but we’re going to learn from those and we’re going to continue to work to do what’s best for each and every kid,” Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows told the school board this week. “We’re just asking for grace and patience as this is new for everyone.”

Oct. 19 marks the end of the six-week period of remote learning for most districts that started after Labor Day. The Delaware State Education Association had pushed for local districts to consider six weeks of remote learning back in July. While each district handled the start of this year differently, many followed that request, though some opened hybrid from the get-go (such as Polytech, Seaford and Cape Henlopen) and other districts (such as Milford, Smyrna and Indian River) have already begun phasing in in-person learning.

While Lake Forest has returned a small number of students — particularly those whose needs couldn’t be met remotely — pre-K, kindergarten, grades one, four, six and nine are slated to begin Monday.

During the school board meeting earlier this month, Lake Forest Superintendent Steven Lucas said that the district had removed desks to increase distancing, taped off distance marks on the floor and removed shareable objects while adding hand sanitizing stations.

“I can say without hesitation there is no safer public building you can go into than one of our schools,” Dr. Lucas said.

Caesar Rodney students in grades kindergarten through three, as well as the onsite and offsite CR countywide programs, will return for the two days in-person and three days of remote instruction.

Meanwhile, Indian River has fast-tracked their hybrid model to allow high school students to start earlier than previously planned.

Under the revised schedule, freshmen will begin receiving in-person instruction at their high schools the week of Oct. 26. Sophomores through seniors will begin receiving in-person instruction the week of Nov. 9.

High school students will be divided into two cohorts and attend school in person two days a week. Students in Cohort A will attend school in person on Monday and Tuesday and learn remotely the remaining three days. Students in Cohort B will learn remotely Monday through Wednesday and attend school on Thursday and Friday.

With many schools now having some kind of face-to-face component, the state is releasing the stats weekly and only provides statewide information.

As of Oct. 9, a total of 123 cases had been reported in schools cumulatively from Sept. 1 to Oct. 8. Child care facilities have seen 15 students and 11 staff test positive with the virus, private K-12 schools report 31 students and 12 staff and public K-12 schools report 11 students and 43 staff, according to data released by the Division of Public Health.

Two positive cases among Sussex Tech staff closed campus for two days this week while the facilities were deep-cleaned.

At its board meeting Tuesday, Appoquinimink staff explained plans for responding to positive cases among students and staff.

District nurses created QR codes at each building for administrators who tend to jump between buildings — educational specialists, nutrition staff, IT staff, etc. — to sign in and out by scanning the code to help with contact tracing.

“These documents are only viewed by the nurses and only for the purposes of contact tracing,” said Yvonne Camac, the lead nurse. “So if we get a call from a campus or a building, we have the ability to go back to that date and that timeframe and see who was actually in that building so we can share that information with Public Health. It really helps in the efforts to establish timelines and those that are exposed.”

With a number of districts already providing their version of hybrid learning, the districts switching to in-person models can use them as blueprints.

“One of the things [downstate nurses] said, which was really reassuring, is that one of our big concerns is this mask wearing and they really haven’t been finding that this is a huge issue with the students when they come back to school,” Ms. Camac said. “I really haven’t heard many negative things, to be quite honest with you.”

Appoquinimink’s process continues to slowly phase in. When students start school Monday, they’ll head to classes for half-day schedules, with the hope of eventually moving to a full-day schedule.

“We have goals but we have to re-evaluate and analyze along the way,” said T.J. Vari, assistant superintendent.

As districts respond to the learning environment with the virus, a fluctuation and flexibility in plans is likely to remain consistent. Models for remote learning shifted when students first returned in September compared to that of last year. Even more than a month into school, districts have had to address screen time, transportation demands, meal service and more.

“There’s a reason why the phrase ‘the new normal’ has meaning,” Appoquinimink school board president Richard Forsten said, “Because something starts out as new and then over time, it tends to become normal and we just adapt and get used to life and move on even if many people, like me, are generally resistant to change. Coming this Monday, we’ve got some change.”

Capital school board will meet Tuesday to discuss hybrid learning. Other districts, like Laurel and Delmar, are holding off on hybrid learning until at least November.

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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