State health and education officials today asked schools, teachers and parents to return to hybrid learning on Jan. 11.
Hybrid learning is a mix of in-person and online learning. That often means students in schools a few days a week and learning remotely from home on other days.
The state had asked schools to go to online-only classes Dec. 14 to help slow the spread of COVID-19, which was clogging Delaware hospitals. And officials continue to say they fear a rise in the number of positive cases after the holidays. A rise is cases always precedes a rise a hospitalizations. and on Tuesday, the state had 432 people in the hospital with COVID.
But Tuesday, Gov. John Carney, Secretary of Education Susan Bunting and Dr. Karyl Rattay, the director of the Delaware Division of Public Health, asked schools to return to classes.
It also asked them to prioritize younger and more vulnerable students for in-person classes.
In the letter, the state cited a Dec. 15 CDC study of Mississippi schools that said classes do not contribute to the spread of the virus.
The letter also suggested options for ways to return Delaware students to hybrid classes:
“Option 1: Return all students to hybrid learning (in-person instruction with social distancing; remote
option for those who want or need it).
“Option 2: Shift high schools to fully remote. Return elementary and middle schools to hybrid
“Option 3: Shift high schools and middle schools to fully remote. Return elementary schools, students
with special needs, English learners, low-income students, and students with internet connectivity
challenges to hybrid learning.’
“As we have said many times, we do not believe there is a public health reason to close schools,” the state officials said in a press release describing the letter. “We have spent the past four weeks helping schools try to address the operational challenges they are experiencing. And we can all agree that students learn best when they’re in school.
“For all of these reasons, we are recommending that districts and schools make every effort to return to hybrid learning on Jan. 11.”
Read the letter here.
Stephanie Ingram, president of the Delaware Scholastic Education Association, was in a meeting and not available for immediate comment.
Teachers and other educators are among those to be vaccinated in the 1B phase, following healthcare workers. That’s expected to start this month and will overlap with continuing health personnel vaccinations.
Rattay also announced that her department has launched a new, schools-focused COVID-19 dashboard. The dashboard will track the number of contagious cases among staff and students of Delaware schools, and offer a more detailed picture of COVID-19 infection in school buildings.
“It’s a testament to the hard work of students, educators and staff that the number of COVID-positive students and staff is so low,” the letter said. “Moreover, data from our epidemiologists shows that the vast majority of cases affecting students and staff originated outside of the school building. The few cases thought to result from in-school spread are frequently observed to be in settings where mask-wearing was not consistently practiced.”
The letter to parents, teaches and schools detailed many things the Department of Education and Division of Health had done to help schools reopen safely.
It said the Department of Education held 20 meetings with superintendents, teacher representatives and charter school representatives to hear about challenges and then to answer questions.
The Division of Public Health and Department of Education issued an FAQ document and held a webinar and office hours for school nurses to review updated procedures.
The letter said changes to CDC quarantine guidelines will help schools burdened by quarantined teachers.
Teachers and other educators formerly had to stay away for 14 days if exposed to the virus, but now can return in 10 days with no symptoms, or seven days if they had a negative test on day 5 or later.
The letter said the change should mean some school personnel can return to work in half the time. That should help ease staffing shortages that forced many schools to shift to fully remote instruction, the letter said.
During Tuesday’s COVID-19 press conference, Bunting and Carney talked about how schools need more substitutes to help in classrooms. It’s a common problem this time of year, they said, but particularly bad with COVID-19 in the picture. They urged anyone interested to get in touch with the school districts.
Because educators asked for more transparent and reliable communication, the Department of Justice hosted a meeting with attorneys for each district and for the DSEA
to review the law around data-sharing in order to promote greater data transparency. The state then added the additional school-based data to My Healthy Community pages.
During Tuesday’s COVID-19 press conference, Bunting also said school systems are assessing where students stand after almost a year of interrupted classes.
The districts and the state are talking about what to do about kids who are falling behind or have fallen behind, she said. Routine help such as tutoring in schools can’t be done right now because of COVID-19 restrictions.
There may be ways to help over the summer, she said, but was not specific.