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State teachers demand Delaware start school year with online learning

'To be clear, the safest available option ... is to begin the school year in a remote learning environment.'

NOTE: This story has been updated with a comment from the Carney administration.

The state teachers association on Wednesday endorsed schools restarting in the fall with online learning, not in-person classes.

Delaware State Education Association President Stephanie Ingram said in a release that the association and its 12,000 members are no longer optimistic that schools can safely open their doors as the coronavirus continues to circulate in the First State.

“Protecting the safety of Delaware educators, students, and families requires this action,” she said. “We believe it will allow time to further evaluate the trauma caused by the virus, its impact on our student’s and educators’ mental health, the impact of the virus on the physical health of children of all ages. 

“It will also allow time to develop health plans for students and educators who are at a higher risk of infection and plans to meet the educational needs of students on a district-by-district basis.”

Ingram’s comments come one day after Gov. John Carney said that he expected schools to reopen with a mix of in-person and online classes. Carney, who made his comments Tuesday during his weekly coronavirus press conference, said the schools seemed likely to open when COVID 19 has a mild to moderate spread in the community. 

The state Department of Education released reopening guidelines last week, dividing their recommendations into three categories: mild community spread of the virus, or green; mild to moderate spread, or yellow; and severe spread, or red.

DSEA President Stephanie Ingram
DSEA President Stephanie Ingram

“My own view is that we’re likely to be in that yellow category as we move into the end of August and early September,” Carney said Tuesday.

The governor said it was particularly critical to get preschool to third graders back into the classroom, because that group is learning to read and need personal instruction. From fourth grade on, he said, students are reading to learn, he said.

He and Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health, also talked about how children under the age of 10 are both less likely to be infected with the virus and also to spread it once they get it. That could mean it’s safer to bring them back into classrooms.

Carney insisted the facts and science would control when and how Delaware schools reopen, not fear.

Ingram said in the release that many DSEA members tuned into Carney’s Tuesday press conference “hoping to gain more answers and clarity about the upcoming school year.  Instead, they left confused, with more questions and heightened concerns about their personal safety and well-being.”

“To be clear, the safest available option for our students, their families, educators, and their families is to begin the school year in a remote learning environment,” Ingram said in the release.

Carney spokesman Jonathan Starkey said it’s too soon for the state to make any decisions.

“We understand all of the concern and fear around COVID-19 — and the governor will not recommend returning to school even in a hybrid model if it’s not safe for children, educators and staff,” Starkey said. “It’s still too early to make an informed decision about schools based on the data we have available today.”

Districts should continue to plan for all three scenarios, he said.

“We need children in school learning, particularly our youngest learners,” Starkey said. “There is no substitute for in-person instruction. But safety remains the top priority and we’ll be working over the coming weeks to help districts and teachers get to a place of comfort and confidence.”

Carney will continue to follow the science and data, in close consultation with Delaware’s public health experts, he said.

“We’ll also continue to work closely with educators and school leaders on a path forward,” Starkey said.

The DSEA recently conducted a survey of its members regarding COVID-19 and the 2020-2021 School Year, the release said.  Based on nearly 4,400 responses it said:

  • 85.3% have concerns about their personal health
  • 88.7% have concerns about their family’s health
  • 89.5% believe it is important that schools are closed to help prevent the spread of the diseas
  • When considering returning to in-person learning for 2020-2021 school year
    • 88.3% have concerns for their own health
    • 91.2% have concerns for their family’s health
    • 92.7% have concerns for their students’ health
    • 93.2% have concerns for their students’ family’s health
    • 93.9% have concerns for their fellow educator’s health

“It is incumbent upon all of us to work as hard as possible to ensure that our students received the best possible remote learning experience while continuing to work on returning to in person learning only when we know it is safe to do so.” Ingram said. “We need to make sure that students and educators have the ability to access online learning by providing technology and ensuring connectivity.”

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