Polytech to adopt hybrid model to start school year

WOODSIDE — For one day a week, groups of Polytech High School students will be back in the classroom, while their peers take part in remote learning.

The vo-tech also pushed back their start date for all students to Sept. 9, with freshman orientation on Sept. 8.

“Personally, I’m very happy that we are able to do the hybrid model because of the fact that we are a CTE (Career and Technical Education), a technical school district. Without that hands-on learning time, our students can’t learn their technical programs well enough to get their certification and licensure and be prepared to work,” said Superintendent Amelia Hodges during a board meeting last week.

“The fact that we have the opportunity to bring them in at least part time is huge, in my mind, and we will do everything we can in our power to protect that ability to serve our students that way.”

Last week, Gov. John Carney gave school districts the green light to bring students back for hybrid learning, meaning a mix of in-person and remote instruction. The Delaware Department of Education released its 34-page guidance for schools to reopen in July, which specifies cleaning, transportation, face coverings and more.

The final decision of how to reopen schools comes down to local school boards; Cape Henlopen opted to go hybrid at the start of the year, while Capital and Milford school boards voted students would start the year remotely before potentially returning to buildings. Other decisions are coming through the rest of this month.

At Polytech, students will have in-school instruction one day a week and remote learning four days per week. Two of those four remote days, Polytech will provide “whole-class remote learning.” For the other two days, the district will have students Zoom into the class that’s occurring on-site.

Students will be split into three groups — A, B and C — which will attend school on either Monday, Wednesday or Friday. On a case-by-case basis, students will be able to opt for complete remote learning (for personal health complications, or a household member’s).

There will be a combination of synchronous and asynchronous work during the remote period. In school, social distancing, increased cleaning and face masks will be enforced. Polytech will provide Chromebooks 1:1 for students beginning Monday.

“This is going to be different than the spring: students are going to be required to attend all of their instructional days; attendance will be taken,” Dr. Hodges said. “Students will be required to participate in the synchronous online learning; attendance will be taken. Attendance for our asynchronous instruction will be based on whether weekly assignments are completed.”

Where possible, the high school will limit the mixing of different cohorts of students. Dr. Hodges provided the example that carpentry juniors would ideally attend their other classes together “so that we are minimizing the cross-student exposure,” she said.

“It’ll also help with contact tracing should that become necessary at any point in time,” she said. “We may not be able to do that all day … with students because of the variations in our schedule — for instance, not all 11th-grade students take the same math class or the same English class. But to the extent possible, we are looking to do that.”

Tuesdays and Thursdays, when all students are remote, they would have other assignments and would be able to partake in telehealth, telecounseling, speech therapy and more.

Transportation on buses will allow for social distancing, and the district is encouraging students to drive themselves when possible.

Board member Reginald Chandler, Sr., expressed concern for sending students back, citing his responsibilities at Delaware Tech in a lab, making sure that students are socially distanced and the equipment is cleaned carefully.

“It is a lot. It’s a major undertaking. I feel as if going in that direction puts our students in great harm and makes it a major risk that I feel like we could avoid with the remote learning,” he said. “… Everyone is not practicing the requirements. You have a lot of people who think that they are invincible to this coronavirus and they don’t take it serious. And there’s no way to marshal that.”

Dr. Hodges emphasized the concerns for students’ mental health and the supports provided to them by staff and educators. Additionally, certain licenses and certifications cannot be extended through solely online education.

“For instance, a nursing clinical preparation — that needs to be hands-on work. Learning to weld is very difficult to do on a computer. Learning to repair a car is very difficult to do on a computer. You won’t get the same level of education as you would hands-on,” she said.

“We’re trying to strike the best balance that will give all of our students and our staff members the safety that we need to provide them while also fulfilling our promise to them with regard to instruction but also with regard to the mental and social and emotional health issues.”

Meanwhile Sussex Tech’s board will meet Aug. 20 regarding reopening. Like many others throughout the state, the district also asked the board to start school after Labor Day.

“We have two staff committees (approximately 30 people) representing all employee groups working on our operations and instructional delivery programs,” acting superintendent Kevin Carson wrote in a letter.

School board president Warren Reid expressed frustration about the lack of direction from the state at Tuesday’s district board of education meeting.

“[The state is] putting this down on the school boards to make this decision based on safety and education,” he said. “… I want to just reiterate that the Department of Education is not giving us an exact way to do this. And that, to me, is disappointing that they won’t step up and take charge, based on the fact that they are the Department of Education.”

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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