Students, parents, professionals team up to discuss school building reopening strategies
By By Jennifer Antonik
Virtual rooms filled with students and educators have temporarily replaced hall passes and state testing in Delaware thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic.
But Governor John Carney has announced a plan to engage school and wellness professionals, parents and students in creating reopening strategies to suit the needs of some of Delaware’s most vulnerable populations regardless of how the pandemic continues to play out.
Gov. Carney issued a state of emergency back on Thursday, March 12 as Delaware’s first case of Coronavirus was confirmed. The next day, he ordered schools to shutter their doors for the following two weeks, leaving students, parents, educators and school staff wondering about the next steps.
But what actually came next was, to many, unfathomable. Along with climbing numbers of COVID-19 cases came the need to maintain the empty status of school buildings. Monday, March 23, Gov. Carney extended the closure of school buildings through Friday, May 15. In May, he extended it once more and closed school buildings down for the duration of the 2019-2020 school year.
In those long weeks at home, educators began setting up remote learning outlets for students and started tracking attendance again in accordance with Gov. Carney’s orders. School nutrition staff members were also made available throughout the state to provide boxes of meals, breakfasts and lunches, via drive-thru for families in need.
With spring in the air and COVID-19 cases in Delaware beginning to plateau, Gov. Carney announced a strategy Monday, May 18, to reopen the now all-too-quiet hallways, helping families and educators get back on track.
Three COVID-19 School Reopening Working Groups will work to advise Delaware’s Department of Education, school districts and charter schools in the summer months leading up to the 2020-2021 school year.
The groups, each led by two co-chairs professionally engaged in the education and/or wellness of Delaware’s students, will discuss health and wellness, academics and equity, and operations and services.
“These working groups will provide important recommendations to Secretary [Susan] Bunting and school and district leaders on how to safely return to school,” Gov. Carney said. “I am pleased with the expertise these members bring to this important effort and look forward to their guidance on the key issues that Delaware’s superintendents and charter school leaders must consider before re-opening their buildings.”
The membership of each group consists of parents, legislators, educators, superintendents and student representatives, bringing a range of ideas to the table. Meetings will be held virtually and listed on the public meeting calendar website found at https://publicmeetings.delaware.gov/. More information can also be found on the website for Delaware’s Department of Education at https://www.doe.k12.de.us/Page/4211.
“Preparing for the next school year under these extremely difficult times is going to require a multifaceted approach,” House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, a member of the Health and Wellness working group, said. “It’s not enough to plan for the logistics of how the schools will physically operate and how to ensure all students receive the quality education they deserve. We also have to prepare to address the mental health challenges that many of our children will face. This has been a stressful time for everyone, and children are no different. If we want this unique upcoming school year to be successful, we have to address students’ mental health and wellness.”
For now, there are more questions than answers with a lot of work ahead of committee members.
They must work together to create recommendations based on three public health scenarios: school buildings reopening due to minimal community spread of the Coronavirus in Delaware, situation dependent scenarios thanks to minimal to moderate community spread and buildings remaining closed if there is a significant community spread in the state. Final recommendations should be given to Delaware’s Department of Education in July, although the groups will continue to meet through September or an alternate time period as set by Sec. Bunting, according to the press release from the state.
“We’re asking each working group to help the department develop a framework of essential actions that school district and charter school leaders should take to effectuate a safe return to school,” Sec. Bunting said. “These working groups also will help us reach out to our communities so that the ideas and concerns of Delawareans ground our work. These meetings will be open to the public, and I encourage participation across our state.”
Public comments and ideas to be reviewed by committee members should be sent via email to email@example.com.
“I am honored to work with such a talented group of stakeholders on what will be one of the most impactful challenges on public education in modern history,” Ashley Giska, assistant superintendent at Laurel School District and co-chair of the Academics and Equity working group, said. “While the logistics of supporting our students academically and with equity as a driving force will be great, the innovation coming from all of our schools in such a short span of time has been truly inspiring. I am certain we can create a robust path forward for all students in Delaware to grow and thrive as learners in this new environment.”