Staffing issues led to a Capital's Kent County Community School to move to asynchronous remote learning Thursday and Friday, which was announced less than two days before Thursday's school day.

Parents upset as staffing issues close special needs school

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Education

Staffing issues led to a Capital's Kent County Community School to move to asynchronous remote learning Thursday and Friday, which was announced less than two days before Thursday's school day.

Staffing issues led to a Capital’s Kent County Community School to move to asynchronous remote learning Thursday and Friday, which was announced less than two days before Thursday’s school day.

Some Capital School District parents are upset they had little more than 24 hours notice to make plans for their special needs students when their school closed because of bus and teacher staffing problems.

The move left many parents scrambling to find care for their children.

First, the parents were notified Monday via an email that district leaders were evaluating the situation.

Then on Tuesday, they were told that Kent County Community School, which serves about 300 students who have special needs, would move to asynchronous/remote status for Thursday, May 23 and Friday, May 24.

Asynchronous means that students are given assignments to do at home.

Screenshot 20230809 151610 Gallery“My son has pretty significant autism, and if you do virtual or work at home, it’s very difficult for him,” said Tara Surowiec of Dover. Her son, Greyson, is a sixth grader at KCCS.  “Him just being around others is very important, that structure at school, the different opportunities they have, they’re just robbing him of it.”

Jessica Penn, whose sons also attend the Kent County school, said no school also means no services.

“My children with their developmental disabilities and their autism, they don’t do well with schedule change and routine change,” Penn said. “Them going to school is not just them getting an education. It’s also access to services like speech and occupational therapies, some kids need physical therapy and we don’t receive those outside of the school district.”

To miss a single day, let alone two, Penn said, is denying them services. 

“I’m fortunate to be a stay-at-home mom, but I know other parents don’t have that luxury, and having to find childcare for a child with special needs, especially on short notice, is incredibly difficult,” Penn said. 

A district communications official said Wednesday morning she didn’t see what the problem was. The district is “assessing every day as to where we are and if we would have to shift to remote. We are not shifting to remote at this moment.”

It is unclear if the Kent County Community School is the only school out of 13 in the district to close Thursday and Friday. 

Delaware’s Department of Education is unaware of any other districts or charters that have switched to remote or asynchronous due to staffing issues.

The moms point out that the language of the letters they received indicates that this could become a common occurrence, and again with little notice.

Letter sent to KCCS parents Tuesday.

Letter sent to KCCS parents Tuesday.

The original email, sent out on behalf of Assistant Superintendent Victoir Cahoon, was sent Monday. 

Among other things it said, “Effective immediately, several times per week and on the weekends, the District leadership team will be evaluating our ability to ensure high-quality, in-person, safe, and secure learning environments for our students.

“This evaluation may compel the District to implement asynchronous learning for some schools or programs. If that happens, communication will be disseminated to families in as timely a manner as possible so that parents can plan for their children.”

Just a day later, on Tuesday, Robert Bennett, principal of Kent County Community School, sent a letter home in student backpacks saying the school would be closed Thursday and Friday. 

The school also sent a robocall which several parents said they didn’t listen to because they get several a week.

Email sent to all Capital parents Monday.

Email sent to all Capital parents Monday.

Among other things, his letter said, “These situations do not diminish our commitment to providing an excellent education in a safe and positive environment. These decisions are not made lightly and we do understand the hardship this creates for our families:”

The Department of Education doesn’t directly define “asynchronous” or “remote,” the terms used in the email and letter sent out by Capital. 

But, it does define “K12 virtual learning” as “when content is delivered online and synchronously by an instructor or asynchronously through an online platform or online program. Virtual learning occurs within and outside of traditional locations, times, distances and instruction, and can take place in in-person settings.”

Adequate access to technology is a necessity for this plan to work, and not every family in Delaware has the tech or internet access it needs.

Asynchronous work will likely consist of worksheets and other paperwork, and that does not  work for many students, Penn said. 

“My sons cannot learn that way,” she said. “I mean, during the pandemic, trying to get them to sit in front of a computer was a total nightmare.”

The Kent County Community School already has a low attendance rate, with just 61% of students with on-track attendance, which means 39% of students have missed more than 10% of school days. 

The moms say they know that there are real staffing issues and some of that is related to pay, but they wonder whether the lack of classroom discipline isn’t the larger issue.

Surowiec said she’s been told by friends who are teachers that the way children treat teachers and staff has changed a lot.

“It’s become pretty unsafe in many of the schools,” Surowiec said, “and I know definitely at the middle school.”

Penn agreed that behavioral issues in the district make it difficult to have a smooth and effective education system.

The frustration from parents was directed towards the district administration and not the teachers. 

“My son’s teacher and paras are incredible and would be there in a heartbeat,” Surowiec said in a Facebook post. “This comes from the higher up. If they’re approving days off, then obviously they need to not for those days. If they need to retain staff which they do, offer incentives, increase wages, show more support.”

Surowiec said teachers deserve more pay and incentives, but schools also  need to figure out how to support teachers that are in classrooms and make sure they garner the respect from student that they deserve.

She said she’s spoken to a half dozen of other parents, at least one of which said she was going to call a lawyer.

“They’re all in the same boat,” she said. “This is not good for our child. This does not help our child, and this is something that should never have come to this point.”

This is a developing story. Check back for more.

Share this Post