Seaford to reopen in hybrid, with possible switch to full remote

SEAFORD – Seaford School District students will start the 2020-21 year Sept. 8 under a hybrid model – with a switch to full-remote instruction at some point more than a remote possibility.

Following executive session, Seaford’s board of education voted 5-0 Monday night for a reopening hybrid model with a mix of in-school and home-based online instruction during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

School board approval included an amendment caveat … “if data from the Division of Public Health reaches levels deemed unsafe – by the district in consultation with the Division of Public Health – a remote plan will then be enacted.”

The intent is to get hybrid students into schools a minimum of at least several weeks to kick off the year.

“I think it is important to really get our students on the right path to start the school year,” said Seaford School District Superintendent Dr. Corey Miklus. “Just remember this is just a reopening plan. We feel that is enough time to really set the students up for success the rest of the year.”

Based on COVID-19 data in Delaware, Gov. John Carney and Delaware’s Division of Public Health announced Aug. 4 that Delaware schools may open under a hybrid scenario, with a mix of in-person and remote instruction with significant safety precautions to limit transmission of COVID-19.

“When we reopen our goal is to be able to bring this small group of students that we can manage,” said Dr. Miklus. “Our goal through this is the more students we can get face to face, teach them how to understand technology, teach them how to be a really good remote learner … so when do switch to remote – I don’t have a crystal ball – but I do see us going to remote at some time. I really feel we planned for that remote option. We have a really good feeling that we are going to be remote at some time throughout this year.”

Seaford’s hybrid option was favored by 53 percent of respondents in a district-wide survey that drew 2,358 responses. Seaford’s most recent enrollment count was 3,327.

Survey responses from Seaford School District families were nearly split, with 53 percent opting for a hybrid learning model, with a mix of in-person and home online learning.

The other families that chose fully remote will be allowed home-based online instruction as Seaford School District students.

“We knew our families have a choice,” Dr. Miklus said. “If ‘Family A’ wanted their child to be remote, they are going to be remote. If they wanted them to hybrid, they get to pick that.”

Seaford’s survey also shed some light that one in 10 respondents indicated they did not have Wi-Fi internet service in their home with a laptop computer.

“We know that we have some families that are still struggling out there. We’ve been working on this all summer, to try to get our families hooked up …,” said Dr. Miklus.

Students in families the school district has been unable to contact or track down will be considered hybrid. Those students would then be assigned a bus for a bus run.

“Then, if they say, ‘No, I don’t want that, it is easier for us to move back into the remote side,” Dr. Miklus said.

Based on the survey, the preferred schedule from community response is one cohort of students in school Monday/Tuesday and another cohort in school Thursday/Friday.

Wednesday is a remote instructional day for all students.

“Our model proposal is that we are going to bring students in 5 1/2 hours a day, which then allows (teachers) each day the time to do remote work. Our teacher’s day is 7 1/2 hours,” said Dr. Miklus.

Seaford’s northern district neighbor, Woodbridge School District opted to begin the 2020-21 year with both hybrid and fully remote instruction. Woodbridge pushed its start date for students back to Sept. 16.

To the south, Laurel School District’s school board Aug. 13 approved remote learning for all students starting Sept. 14, with the intent of starting hybrid instruction beginning with the second quarter Monday, Nov. 9.

Milford’s school board voted Monday to begin phasing in students for hybrid learning over a nine-week period, beginning Sept. 21 for their students with special needs and tentatively concluding with their high school Nov 16, the start of the second quarter.

Milford had previously announced it would begin using a full-remote learning model for the first six weeks, with first student day Sept. 9.

Several other school districts, including Lake Forest and Delmar, have decided that students would begin their academic year remotely, before transitioning into hybrid models.

Indian River School District, one of the largest district’s in the state with upward of 11,000 students, is scheduled to address its 2020-21 reopening plan Wednesday, Aug. 19 at a special meeting of the board of education. The meeting will be held at Sussex Central High School (seating may be limited) and it will also be streamed live through Zoom.

The Seaford school board’s vote followed virtual presentations via Zoom on all components, instruction, transportation, nutrition, technology and efforts to keep the school continuously sanitized.

“I know all of you have spent umpteen hours putting this all together,” said Seaford board of education president David Tull.

Schools across Delaware were shut down in mid-March due to the coronavirus crisis. They remained closed to students through the end of the 2019-20 year.

In assessing COVID-19 data on the Seaford community, Dr. Miklus believes early September is best time-frame to reopen schools through the hybrid, rather than delaying in-school instruction until October or even November, during allergy and flu season.

“For our community, if there is a time to open, it would be now. This is why I am comfortable saying we are at a minimal/moderate spread based on our community,” Dr. Miklus said. “The numbers are going to go up. Opening school, we don’t know what happens when students leave here. They could have a sleepover, a party, and sports are still going on. We could take every single precaution here, in our school, wiping down tables, and we might not be able to combat what is going to happen.”

“Again, do I think that people are going to test positive and the number is going to go up?” said Dr. Miklus. “Yeah, I think they are going to go up across the state, even in those areas if they chose remote. It is just going to happen.”

Plans are in the works for free COVID-19 testing for Seaford district students, on Aug. 31 and possibly Sept. 1, Dr. Miklus said. Testing would be held at the Seaford Middle School gymnasium and results would be back before Sept. 8, the scheduled opening of school.