Delaware schools will likely reopen next month using a hybrid model that provides both in-person and remote instruction for students, Gov. John Carney announced on Tuesday, Aug. 4, during his weekly press briefing.
Schools will open around Labor Day, although there could be a delay to allow enough time to train teachers, added Dr. Susan Bunting, Delaware secretary of education, who was with Carney.
Schools will be prepared before children return, with classrooms configured and operational needs determined, the governor said.
“This is not a one size that fits all. And that’s because every school district is a little bit different — different number of students, different configurations, different capacity in their buildings. We don’t want anybody to come back if it’s not safe,” he said, introducing Dr. Rick Hong, medical director of the Delaware Division of Public Health, who listed health screening protocols for schools.
Students, staff and teachers will be asked to complete daily self-assessments and stay home if they feel ill. Schools will be directed to have isolation processes in place so no sick student or faculty member who develops symptoms while on campus mixes with those who are not ailing, or rides buses with them.
Face masks should be worn by every student in grades 4 to 12 and will be strongly encouraged for those in kindergarten through third grades. Gowns, gloves and hair and shoe coverings will not be required for anyone except school nurses. Hand washing and sanitizing will be mandatory after students change classrooms and surfaces that are touched often will be cleaned and disinfected often. HVAC filters will be frequently changed.
Individual desks should be used and turned so all face in the same direction. There should be one-way traffic in hallways and students should stay six feet away from each other.
Physical education activities should be designed with distancing in mind, Hong said.
Older teachers, or those with underlying health conditions, could be those involved with remote learning to limit exposure to others, Carney said, although he stressed those types of decisions will be made by each school district.
Dr. Rick Pescatore, chief physician for the Delaware Division of Public Health, recommended monthly testing and said the state will continue to increase testing availability at sites in towns and locations such as Walgreens. Vault Health testing, he explained, uses physician-ordered saliva test kits that are shipped to individuals who are supervised during a Zoom meeting. Samples are then shipped to a lab.
But Hong said testing won’t matter, if precautions such as face coverings and hand washing are not strictly adhered to.
“Safely reopening schools for Delaware children — especially our youngest learners and disadvantaged children who need in-person instruction the most — is the most important and difficult issue we’ll face as we continue to confront this COVID-19 crisis,” Carney said.
“Our public health team will continue to work closely with district and school leaders to get this right. Hybrid learning may look different across each district, charter or private school. But one thing is clear: the safety of all of Delaware’s students, educators and staff will be our top priority. We can’t get students back to school if we can’t do so safely,” Carney said.
Bunting said educational leaders have been working to return children and educators to school for months and will “continue to support districts and charters as they design and implement their local plans under the hybrid model.”
In March, because of the coronavirus, schools were closed for two weeks. On March 26, guidance was designed for remote learning, causing a “sudden pivoting for our teachers,” Bunting said. On April 24, schools were closed through the rest of the academic year.
“We then began to think about what comes next,” she said.
Groups composed of professionals from fields including health care, education and government met to write guidance and developed three possible scenarios for reopening — schools opened completely, schools remained closed or they offered a hybrid method of teaching.
Among challenges, Bunting said, was that some students didn’t have access to the Internet or the necessary devices. Additional towers were built on the western side of the state to help with Internet connections, she said
“I know there are still a lot of questions and we are trying to answer those question through our website,” Bunting said, referring to the website https://www.doe.k12.de.us.