Gov. John Carney on Wednesday formalized the new state rule that children ages 5 and up must wear masks, required schools to notify families of any positive cases of COVID-19 and suspended rules about the minimum hours of attendance a child must have in school.
Those were among the issues covered in the 25th modification to Carney’s State of Emergency declaration. It also said day cares could increase from 15 to 25 children on Sept. 1, and formalized a raft of recommendations from the Department of Education’s School Reopening Guidelines.
The state is beating the virus, the governor said in the press release. The numbers of cases and hospitalizations are down, statistics show.
“But if we hope to get more children and educators back in school, and more Delawareans back to work, we need to stay vigilant,” he said in the release. “Wear a face mask. Wash your hands frequently. Stay at least six feet away from others. Stay home if you’re sick. And – whether you have symptoms or you don’t – consider getting a test at de.gov/gettested.”
The modification suspends formal observations under the Delaware Performance Appraisal System II until Nov. 1. That program governs how teachers and student learning are evaluated. The modification asks the Department of Education to work with educators to develop a modified system for tracking student growth, taking into account the challenges of remote and hybrid learning.
For the months of September and October, the Department of Education will work with districts, charters and educators on informal observation strategies and ensure educators are receiving feedback and administrators are giving feedback in a new way given the challenges presented by hybrid and remote learning.
The state Division of Public Health had announced earlier in the week that it was changing the guidelines for children’s masks. It previously had said only children 12 and older needed to wear face coverings in public.
Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health, said during Carney’s COVID-19 press conference Tuesday that health officials had been reluctant to require kids ages 5 to 11 to wear masks, feeling like the kids might not tolerate them well.
The federal Centers for Disease Control earlier this month switched gears and recommended masks for kids in public and in congregate settings, such as child care and schools. State rules generally follows CDC guidance.
Rattay showed slides that said there has been a slight increase in infections in youngers ages over time, but nowhere near the jump in ages 18-34 and ages 35-49.
In Delaware, only 249 children between birth and age 4 have tested positive, Rattay said. But the state has seen more infections where younger kids may be susceptible, especially if they are in a crowded house with older children and young adults.
Even though children’s cases may be much milder than adults and the children are likely to be asymptomatic, children should wear masks, she said.
Carney’s new modification says students in kindergarten and above should wear face coverings inside and outside child care homes and centers and at school except for meals, naps or when doing so would inhibit the child’s health.
Children under 2 should not wear masks because of the risk of suffocation, the rule said. However, children ages 2 through 4 should be encouraged to follow the same rules that children ages 5 and up do.
“This order does not require that any child who has not reached kindergarten wear a face covering,” the modification says. “Parents and caregivers must supervise use of face coverings by children to avoid misuse.”
As schools prepared to reopen, many parents wanted to know whether they would be told if a positive case showed up in school.
Carney’s modification answers that: “Effective immediately, all Local Education Agencies must notify parents/guardians and students aged 18 and up if the school becomes aware that a person who tested positive was in the school building at the same time as students.”
The order leaves the manner and content of the notification up to each school. It says the Division of Public Health will work with schools on their responses to reports of positive test results and on ensuring that any descriptions of those actions in their letters are accurate.
The modification says that the minimum annual school hours requirement will be suspended for the 2020-21 academic year.
Last spring, schools reported that by the end of the spring semester, huge numbers of children were no longer participating in online classes. In the Woodbridge School District, about 30 percent of families didn’t have access to internet service.
School districts and charter schools are ordered by the modification to develop school schedules according to their model — hybrid or remote learning — and to develop an attendance policy that defines and describes attendance.
Schools must provide on average three and a half to five hours daily of synchronous (delivered same time) or asynchronous (not delivered same time) programming. Attendance may be based on a combination of participation in, completion and/or submission of assignments.
Schools must continue to enter attendance in the state’s eSchool program and must post the attendance policy on its website and notify people where this policy can be accessed.
Final attendance policies must be in place before the beginning of the school year and must be submitted to the secretary of education no later than Oct. 2, 2020.
Among other things, the order also said:
- All field trips for schools and day cares are cancelled.
- Desks must be arranged so they are facing the same direction. If tables are used, students must be seated a minimum of 3 feet apart with face coverings, or the recommended 6 feet apart for social distancing, and facing the same direction.
- Students and staff must stay home if they are exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19, have been confirmed to have COVID-19 or have been required by Public Health to isolate or quarantine.
- Schools must identify an area or room separated from others where a student or staff member exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19 can wait until he/she can be picked up, which should be arranged as soon as possible, or transported to a medical facility if necessary.
- Schools must ensure enhanced cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces such as stair railings, doorknobs and bathrooms, cleaning between every 15 minutes to two hours using EPA-approved cleaning and disinfecting solutions.
- Bus capacity must be limited by the number of students that can be seated three or more feet apart on the school bus with face coverings (one student per row in staggered fashion, if possible). Students from the same family may sit together in one row.
- Schools shall provide a reasonable accommodation for students who are unable to wear a face covering on a bus due to health reasons.
- High-touch surfaces on buses (handrails, seat tops, particularly in first few rows) must be cleaned between every bus run with an EPA-approved solution.