DOVER — Local school districts say they are committed to in-person learning during the latest COVID-19 surge, but have alternative plans at the ready in case a shift to virtual learning is needed due to staff shortages.
Caesar Rodney School District superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald said in a letter to the community he is asking students to take their Chromebooks home each evening.
“There may be times in which staff shortages may create a safety concern and at those times we may need to move into a remote setting for a short time,” Dr. Fitzgerald said. “While we hope that this situation does not occur, it is important that you and your children are prepared.”
Several districts have already been affected by staff shortages. Lake Forest High School has gone to virtual learning until Jan. 21, while New Castle County Vo-Tech was remote for the past week and Delmar had a half-day of school on Monday due to quarantine concerns.
Capital School District also briefly went to virtual learning before resuming in-person instruction last week.
In a letter to the community, Capital Superintendent Dr. Vilicia Cade encouraged parents to establish potential alternative childcare plans. The district is also asking staff and students to bring home instructional devices daily in case a shift to remote learning is necessary.
“We continue to do our best to keep our schools open; however, there are situations that evolve daily that may lead to the need to shift to remote learning in designated classrooms or impacted schools,” Dr. Cade said. “We will attempt to make the decisions as soon as possible using all available attendance and COVID related data. The reality is that this will continue to happen and we recognize that it impacts our staff, students and families.”
Indian River School District spokesman Dave Maull said, “Our goal is to keep schools open for in-person instruction. However, we are developing plans for a temporary shift to remote instruction if it becomes necessary.”
Delaware is experiencing record numbers of COVID-19 case rates statewide in 2022, averaging 3,153.1 new cases per day in the most recent seven-day rolling average.
This surge has not yet carried over to in-person contagious cases in the state’s public schools, however — with the caveat students have not been in schools as much lately due to the holiday break and multiple snow days.
The Delaware Division of Public Health reported 119 in-person contagious cases of the virus in public schools for the week of Jan. 1-7 — the most recent available data. This total, which represents 0.08% of the estimated 141,040 public school students this academic year, is the lowest for a week school has been in session although some districts had as many as three days off because of a winter storm during this timeframe.
There has been a total of 5,587 in-person positive cases among students this year (3.9%) and an additional 1,235 among staff.
The data, posted on the state’s coronavirus website, only includes in-person contagious cases. In-person contagious cases are defined by DPH as “persons who were present at school as far back as 48 hours prior to the onset of symptoms (or test date if no symptoms). The source of infection of these cases cannot be attributed to schools, nor is it known that they are the source of infection to others in schools.”
The data is for all of Delaware’s public schools, which include 19 districts and all 23 charter schools which are a part of the public school system. Private school data is still unavailable.
Gov. John Carney said in a COVID-19 press briefing on Tuesday the state does not want to go back to virtual learning unless it is necessary for safety reasons, understanding schools are dealing with staff shortages due to COVID-19.
“We continue to hope to be able to keep our schools open for in-person instruction,” Gov. Carney said. “We know that some schools will have to close, mostly because employees that are not able to come to work because they’ve tested positive or because they’re a close contact of someone who tested positive. Ultimately, the goal is to make sure the students get the education they need to be successful and the education they deserve.”
“It’s been something we’ve wrestled with from the beginning,” he added. “First in understanding the impact and effect on children and teachers and staff within school buildings, we’ve learned that schools are safe environments. They do require the structure that schools provide with mask-wearing, social distancing and the care that I’ve seen in visiting schools.”
With such a fluid situation, the timeline for notification for students and parents on in-person versus remote learning might not be ideal, districts have cautioned.
“Unfortunately, there may be times when such a decision must be made with very short notice,” Dr. Fitzgerald said. “I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. I know that by working together, by keeping your child home when they show symptoms, and by having them wear a mask when they are in school, you will be helping us keep everyone safe and our buildings open. I know that by pulling together as a community we will succeed.”