Delaware City Schools: Hybrid learning will remain in place through end of school year

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek

Acknowledging that any choice they make will have downsides, Delaware City Schools board members on March 2 agreed to continue the district's hybrid attendance schedule for the remainder of the school year. 

At issue was whether the district should resume an in-person, five-day-a-week schedule in April for students who are on a hybrid schedule. 

Delaware City Schools administrative offices, 74 W. William St.

Students whose families chose the hybrid scheduled are divided into two "cohorts," which rotate between classes in school buildings and remote learning. Families also could select an all-remote learning plan that will remain operational for the rest of the school year.

Both schedules are designed to limit the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

As the spread of the virus slows across Ohio and 70% of the district's staff are being vaccinated against the virus, board members cited pros and cons of the five-day possibility. 

Board member Ted Backus said returning to a five-day schedule is not as simple as opening classroom doors. Some classrooms use tables and not desks, making social distancing a challenge, he said. Protocols would have to be enhanced with more students in school, increasing time demands placed on teachers, he said.

Superintendent Heidi Kegley, who also listed pros and cons of a five-day schedule, said doubling the number of students in schools would require a rotation model between shared teachers to reduce class size, using common space for instruction and limiting school buses to two passengers per seat.

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

Backus said that would require a significant amount of rescheduling to accomplish. 

Board member Matt Weller said he favors a return to a five-day schedule but realizes evidence supports both options.

"I think we can provide a safe environment. ... I think it's something we owe to our students, our community and our parents," he said.

He emphasized that regardless of the path chosen, it's the school board and not Kegley that makes the call.

"The buck stops with us," he said.

Kegley has taken a lot of complaints from the community, he said.

“For the public that's unaware, she is following our directives," he said.

Board member Michael Wiener said by the time the district could change its schedule, fewer than eight weeks would be left in the school year.

A switch to five days a week would be disruptive at a time when mandatory state testing will be underway, he said.

“We need to be focusing on getting these students back in, all-in, in the fall,” Wiener said.

Both Backus and board member Frances O’Flaherty agreed that a return to full attendance in August always has been the plan. 

“That’s never been a question in anyone’s mind,” Backus said.

"I don’t see a reason to go back (to a five-day schedule) with all the students in the classroom so that we back away from the positives we have right now. ... No one in this room is taking this decision lightly," O’Flaherty said.

The rescheduling needed to accommodate a five-day schedule is extremely complex and would involve extensive changes, she said. 

Board member Jayna McDaniel-Browning said she could support continuation of the hybrid schedule.

Along with other board members, she cited the emotional toll the pandemic has taken on district students.

In particular, she said, the district's youngest students have been affected.

Those students and their families are struggling, she said. Too many of the students are frustrated with trying to learn remotely at their computers, she said.

"What can we do to help these families sincerely in crisis?" she asked.

Kegley and O’Flaherty said the district's summer learning programs would be designed to assist students who have had difficulty learning and need help.

Kegley said the district encourages struggling families to contact school buildings and teachers, with an eye toward solutions "based on those individual needs. And that would have to be with those conversations."

Board members said families have cited stress and concerns involved with both continuing the hybrid schedule and switching to five days a week.

 Kegley read six emails from residents, with two urging a switch to five days a week.

Kegley also read letters from the district's three employees unions supporting continuation of the hybrid schedule.

The Delaware City Teachers Association elaborated at length.

Its letter said the school district's general population has a higher COVID-19 rate of cases per 100,000 than Delaware County at large and Franklin County.

It said with five-day attendance, the district would have trouble meeting a Delaware Public Health District recommendation of at least 3-foot social distancing.

“We have to continue to do what is best for the students of Delaware city and the community. ... Just because a surrounding district is implementing or doing something doesn’t mean it is right for DCS," the letter said.

Board members also cited a survey by the Hayes High School Talisman newspaper, which said 63.8% of 457 surveyed Hayes students favor continuing the hybrid schedule, 24.6% prefer a five-day schedule and 11.6% had no opinion.

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