Delaware Secretary of Education Susan Bunting said Tuesday that school districts now will wrap up plans for the school year to start with some in-person classes and some online ones.
Gov. John Carney has been hailing that as the likely start, repeating it Tuesday in a press release and on his weekly COVID-19 press conference.
Bunting left no doubt.
“The next steps naturally would be for the local districts and charters to decide exactly what plan would be best for the students and staff in those particular local education agencies, and those plans are now being finalized,” she said during Carney’s press conference.
It is still possible that data about the coronavirus infections could change, officials noted.
“We don’t want anybody to come back if it’s not safe,” Carney said.
The split decision was made because the spread of the coronavirus, which shut schools in March, is still minimal to moderate around Delaware.
The state chose three criteria to rule school openings: The number of new cases per 100,000 people, the percentage of people testing positive and the average number of hospitalizations per 100,000. Each is ranked according to mild (green), moderate (yellow) and significant (red) spread.
Because two of those categories — new cases and positive tests — have remained yellow for quite some time, the schools will open with what they call Scenario 2 or a hybrid decision.
The in-person classes are expected to be younger students still learning the basics such as reading. They are less likely to be infected or to infect others, state officials have said repeatedly.
While the state is recommending a hybrid start, “The decisions on the learning format is really based on individual schools,” said Dr. Rick Hong, medical director of the Division of Public Health.
“If the schools feel they cannot provide the safe environment for their teachers, staff and students, they can opt to be more restrictive, which would be scenario 3, which will be remote learning 100%.”
The state would not, at this time, recommend having all in-person classes, Hong said.
Among some other developments:
- Teachers and students will be tested before classes begin, some with new take-home tests.
- The state also may establish some community testing sites for students.
- The state has invested in new cell towers in west Kent County and west Sussex County to help with the broadband desert that has exited there, Bunting said. Her department spent some of its federal CARES money on the project.
- The state also will offer other support services to help students with social, emotional and mental health.
- Educational staff and students will be asked to perform daily self assessments including a temperature check, as well as wear masks, follow hand hygiene recommendations, and use one-way halls with 6 feet of distance between groups.
- Hong also recommended that high-touch surfaces such as railings, doorknobs and bathrooms be cleaned every 15 minutes to 2 hours.
Bunting said the state plans for stimulating curriculae that will “make sure that our students have a full year of new life.”
Officials said they could not say what percentage of students will be in classrooms because it will be different for each school and district.
Most districts will start around Labor Day, although some systems have delayed opening to plan more, such as Brandywine, which now plans to open on Sept. 16.
“I think the bottom line is, as I’ve talked to the school superintendents over the last couple of weeks, is that there’s not one size that fits all,” Carney said. “And that’s because every school district is a little bit different, different number of students, a different configuration in their buildings, different capacity in their buildings.”
One contributing factor that has to be taken into considering is bus transportation, he pointed out. Bringing in smaller numbers of students may mean a system needs more buses.
Dr. Rick Pescatore, chief physician of the Delaware Division of Public Health, said the state would be able to offer teachers a Vault Health saliva test to take home. The state has bought 20,000, he said. The kits are shipped directly to homes and the user ships it back, postage paid.
That test will be used to augment the testing already taking place at New Castle County and Delaware sponsored sites, which includes Curative saliva tests, and nasal swabs at a Walgreens in every county.
The state also may establish some community testing sites specifically to quickly test large numbers of students as efficiently as possible, Pescatore said.
Hong said that while the state tracks the health metrics weekly, it will not expect the school districts to respond weekly to any changes.
“We’ll continue to work through this as schools gradually reopen,” Carney said. “It’s very much like the way we reopen sectors of our economy. In terms of allowing restaurants and bars, for instance to open to a certain capacity … and to allow them to get back into business after having been shut down for several weeks.”