Delaware will open schools in the fall with the goal of getting students as much in-person instruction as possible during the 2020-21 school year.
The state’s recommendations will consider three scenarios: minimal spread of the virus, minimal to moderate spread, and substantial spread. They have been color-coded green, yellow and red.
Under minimal spread, schools would open. Under minimal to moderate spread, some programs may go online and other precautions may be taken. Under substantial spread, the school buildings are likely to close and classes will go to online learning again.
The state needs to have plans for all three, said Gov. John Carney, because some experts predict a surge of the virus in fall, as often happens with influenza, which is also a virus.
A decision will be made in early August about which plan and how schools will open.
The decisions will take into account local conditions, Carney said. He pointed to an outbreak like the recent one at Delaware beaches. That could mean schools in one area of the state will operate differently than schools in other areas, he said.
The state will test all school teachers and staff before school starts and have periodic tests during the year, Carney said.
Districts will be able to make many of their own decisions, said Secretary of Education Susan Bunting during Carney’s weekly COVID-19 press conference Tuesday.
Guidelines from the Department of Education will be released later Tuesday or on Wednesday, she said.
Carney and Bunting had an hour-long conference call about the guidelines earlier Tuesday with the state’s superintendents of education, they said.
“Bottom line, our top priority is to make sure we get the best educational experience possible for our students,” Bunting said. “We want to make sure we provide the health and safety, but we also want to maintain that goal of prioritizing high quality equitable education opportunities for all of Delaware’s learners.”
Each plan will include face coverings, social distancing and even precautions on transportation.
“We’re hoping for as much in-person instruction as we can possibly provide because we know that’s the richest,” Bunting said.
“If we ever needed a motivation to wear a face covering, to keep social distancing, to avoid large gatherings, this is the motivation,” Carney said. “So all our children, all our grandchildren, our neighbors’ children can go to school and get more in-person instruction.”
The guidelines grew out of input from 20,000 people, including three appointed working committees of educators, legislators, students and other professionals; phone calls and emails from Delaware residents; and input from the Division of Public Health, Bunting said.
Opinions varied widely. Students generally said they wanted to go back to schools. Some parents and others were not as keen, she said.
The state has federal CARES Act funding that’s allowed it to send $39.1 million to school districts and charter schools to spend on situations that have been created by COVID-19. Another $12.2 million went to the state for educational needs.
About $4.5 million will be invested in instructional support by the time children are in school or learning online, Bunting said.
She said the extra money would help schools in western Kent and Sussex county that do not have excellent access to broadband service.
It will also allow another 41 schools, in addition to the 44 last year, expand services to English learners and low income students, among other things.
Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health, said it was vitally important to get children back into face-to-face enviroments in the fall,
“Students in school obviously receive important academic support, but schools provide so much more than academics to kids and adolescents,” said Rattay, who is a pediatrician and mother of school-age children.
They learn social and emotional skills, are able to exercise, get healthy meals and have access to mental health services and the internet, as well as other vital services, she said.
“Many of these things are are difficult to get in an online-only learning environment,” she said.
She was stunned to find out that only 40 percent of elementary students at one school remained engaged in remote learning last spring.
“For me, that was really staggering and reinforced the need to get kids back in a physical school building,” Rattay said. “But we are absolutely obligated to do it in a way that keeps students and staff safe by using key prevention strategies and mitigating the potential spread of COVID-19.”
She said some of the good news is that children and adolescents are less likely to have severe symptoms of disease.
“They are also less likely to become infected and spread the virus,” she said.
She said a new study shows that children ages 10 and under are less likely to become infected in comparison to kids 10 and up.
That doesn’t mean the risk doesn’t exist for any age of school children or staff, she said.
COVID-19 testing will be available in drug stores
Rattay said during the press conference that the state will announce this week that many pharmacies will be able to test people for the coronavirus.
The state wants people to be tested whether or not they have symptoms or think they may have been exposed as a means of tracking outbreaks.
Delaware off quarantine lists
Carney started his 1:45ish p.m. press conference by saying New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut have removed Delaware from their Covid-19 quarantine lists.
The three states had put Delaware on their lists last week when the number of cases rose. Carney blamed that rise on increased testing at the Delaware beaches, where an outbreak was suspected.
“The reason we’ve been removed from the list is that our data met their criteria,” he said.
The state has fewer percent positives than the cut-off rate, and it wasn’t quite as high on the number of cases per 100,000.
He thanked people for leaning into the call for testing and following guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The state is back below a 5 percent rise in new cases, he said.