Delaware City Schools eyeing early April return to full-time, in-person classes

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek

Delaware City Schools will take steps to prepare for a full-time, in-person classroom schedule after the spring break if conditions of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic permit.

The school board reviewed that possibility Feb. 8, when Superintendent Heidi Kegley and the board members emphasized social distancing, use of face masks and other precautions would be enforced.

Heidi Kegley

If the district decides on a full-time return to classrooms, it will affect only those students on the district's hybrid schedule, Kegley said.

The district uses the hybrid schedule for families who had selected it, with students rotating between classes in school buildings and remote learning. Families also had the option of all-remote learning.

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Those selecting the all-remote option made a commitment for the entire semester, Kegley said, and would be unaffected if other students are in the buildings five days a week.

School likely will resume April 5, after spring break. The last day of school will be May 27.

Kegley and board members Matt Weller, Michael Wiener and Jayna McDaniel-Browning said they see benefits to a full-time return if conditions permit.

"We know what protocols work. We're getting into warmer weather. Windows could be opened again, more fresh air. Increased time on the playground, as well ... (would) allow us to bring back a smaller group ... to see how that's working. To allow us to plan and adjust," Kegley said.

Weller and Kegley said the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine is not the only factor to be considered in a full-time return.

“There’s some thought out there that just because the vaccine is being administered that it suddenly means that we’re good to go, full time, all-in, and that’s just not the case,” Weller said.

Kegley said about 70% of district employees were vaccinated Feb. 7. Their second vaccination will be in March, and the vaccine needs some time to take effect, she said.

Although new cases of the virus are declining, she said, the district is in regular contact with the Delaware Public Health District, looking at conditions in the community.

"The vaccination does not change the health and safety protocols we have in place and we have been following,” Kegley said. “And we are still having our weekly calls with our general public-health district to change or address any changes that have come forward as we've looked at bus capacity, windows being cracked, what's considered a contact and how we operate our lunches, as well as ... social distancing in our buildings." Kegley said.

It will take time to prepare for a possible switch to full time, she said.

"We would absolutely continue to work with the health department, our curriculum team and principals and our transportation to look at overall numbers,” Kegley said. “I could not make this happen in the next few weeks.

"We do know that right now, we are still going to be required to administer state testing,” she said. “Our curriculum team has been planning for that with the building principals. They've created extensive schedules.”

The issue of busing also must be addressed, she said.

"I would need to make sure how many (hybrid) students are ... on individual buses and if we would need to adjust routes,” she said. “We would need to look very carefully at our staffing and our class sizes combining (the two groups of hybrid students who alternate in-school attendance) because we have been able to make some adjustments when students are only there on certain days."

She said the district is unaffected by Gov. Mike DeWine's Feb. 12 comment regarding lowering the priority of COVID-19 vaccinations to teachers and staff if schools aren't committed to returning to in-person classes by March 1.

School districts with hybrid schedules meet DeWine's threshold, she said.

DeWine used the phrase "all-in," she said.

"And that's been, I don't think, very clearly described for others," she said.

Weller said a return to full time, if conditions permit, would have advantages even for a small portion of the school year.

"I really think we should make every effort to get back full time if it's safe to do that,” he said. “Even if we can salvage only that brief period of time at the end of the year, I think that will go a long way towards helping not only in the classroom but (also) just from a mental standpoint. Just to be back and feel a little bit more normal."

Kegley said the availability of teachers and substitute teachers has improved since November and December, when the virus was spreading rapidly.

"We were having a very difficult time and now we're able to fill most of those positions, or at least follow the models we've used in the past when we are short substitutes," she said.

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