As COVID cases and hospitalizations are rising, the union representing Delaware teachers and education workers wants the state to offer more guidance about when schools should be closed by districts, whether to increase the number of students, what’s happening with PPE and more.
Its president stopped short of saying they wanted Gov. John Carney and others to dictate what should be done when and make it uniform.
“To be clear, something isn’t working here,” said Stephanie Ingram, president of the Delaware State Education Association, in a press release late Monday afternoon. “What we are hearing from members has led us to ask for this oversight from the Governor’s Office at the district level. We need the oversight and assurance that districts are doing all they can to abide by these health and safety guidelines, and we need the state to hold them accountable.”
Efforts were unsuccessful to reach Ingram for additional comment.
Jon Starkey, spokesman for Carney said, “Educators want to be in school. They just want to make sure it’s safe. We agree and will continue to work with school leaders across the state to make sure we can safely get more students and educators back in the classrooms.”
Delaware Secretary of Education Susan Bunting could not immediately be reached for comment.
Ingram said DSEA’s members were exhausted, worn down and “tired of feeling like they take the brunt of the criticism.”
She detailed statistics that the union finds concerning in the rise of the number of positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations up and down the state.
Sussex County has has an increase of 24 percent in its new case rate in the last three weeks, after starting the period in the red zone of the state’s red-yellow-green rankings that determine schools being fully open, hybrid or closed. The hospitalization rate in Sussex has topped 25 per day per 100,000, she said.
“Sussex will have two red and one yellow reopening criteria,” Ingram said. “Those statistics paired with us heading into the holiday season traditionally marked by family gatherings – which will undoubtedly happen whether we like it or not – causes us to be concerned that the rise in new cases and % positive tests will continue.”
Carney has said repeatedly in the last year that school districts would make final decisions about their own districts. Ingram said in her press release that many teachers are saying the districts are not listening.
“Because of this current increase in new cases, our members are actively engaging with their local administrations,” Ingram said. “They are giving feedback from inside of the schools, they are asking for support, and they are asking to be kept safe – and in many districts they do not feel like they are being heard.”
She had a list of demands:
- More guidance as to when schools should be closed by the district. “There is no consistency,” she said.
- More guidance when it comes to increasing the number of students in a building. Most districts are looking to expand that, she said.
- Public and district communication regarding re-entry plans. Teachers and others are confused about it, she said.
- No school board should be relinquishing the right to approve a re-entry plan or relinquish the right for the public to weigh in on their plan.
- Distribution of PPE. “Our members are not receiving the PPE that they need to do their jobs,” she said.
Many educators have to buy PPE for themselves and their students when it’s not provided by districts or districts don’t have an ample supply, she said. There’s a lack of district-supplied full body PPE gear for those who work with children with severe disabilities, she said.
“We are told that our schools are a safe place to be,” Ingram said. “If what is happening outside of our schools is what is increasing the numbers – how do we deal with it? Because, it will soon affect the safety inside our schools.”
Ingram thanked the educators working inside and outside of schools. She said some are cleaning desks, buying their own personal protective equipment, teaching remotely and in person, and often at the same time. Many are eating in cars to socially distance during lunch, working 16-plus hours a day and learning new platforms to do their jobs.
“Our educators are superheroes,” she said. “And, while educating is their superpower, a lack of health and safety enforcement is their kryptonite. They are in school with their students because they love to teach, but they don’t feel like their safety is a concern, especially as these numbers continue to climb and safety guidelines aren’t complied with in every district. We need ramped up enforcement to ensure compliance with health and safety guidelines.”
Educators deserve better, she said.
“We want to be heard,” she said. “If these things are not able to be done, and we can’t ensure that being in school is a safe choice, then we have no other option than to ask for districts to return to full remote learning environments until the compliance is enforced and our numbers stop increasing at a rapid pace and have decreased to a level that ensures a safe return for students and staff.”