The Delaware City Schools Board of Education discussed potentially changing the reopening plan for the upcoming school year at its regular meeting Monday.
The discussion came during the board comments section of the meeting, and began with board member Frances O’Flaherty expressing her doubts about the district’s plan to return to instruction on Aug. 31 with a blended model that would see students studying in-person every other day and studying online the other days of the week.
“We had talked earlier at a previous meeting, and at that time we thought the hybrid option looked good for providing the most interactions with teachers and students and having the least risk attached, and I think we need to reevaluate,” O’Flaherty said. “Many reports have been made available to us from across the country, from other countries that indicate that even a hybrid model will not be 100% safe.”
O’Flaherty said schools that have reopened in various in-person models have already seen infections among staff, and she said the board should consider moving all instruction to online for the start of the school year.
“We need to be thinking about moving to all online until we can guarantee the safety of every student, every bus driver, every staff member,” O’Flaherty said. “The virus does not differentiate. We don’t know everything that’s going to happen. I can 100% guarantee that nobody sitting on this board right now thought that we were going to have to make a life-and-death kind of decision like this. I can’t look back five years from now and say, ‘oh it didn’t matter’ because it does matter.”
Board President Matt Weller said the board will continue to monitor the outbreak in the county, and it will make a decision based on local information.
“Your points are well taken here,” Weller said to O’Flaherty. “At least from my personal standpoint, I think we should wait and see. We are still four weeks out from the start of school. Things can certainly change here in a short time… I think we should be pragmatic, and look at what’s going on here locally before we make that final call, whether we’re all online or whether we continue with the hybrid model.”
Weller said the board can discuss the plan at its next meeting on Aug. 17.
Board member Ted Backus agreed about making the decision based on the data, but said the board can’t wait very long and may have to call a special meeting to make the decision.
“I think we need to look at this decision sooner than later,” Backus said. “I think that if we are going to decide on a change that parents need to know that sooner than later. I think our teachers need to know that sooner than later and I don’t think it’s something that can wait until a week before the school year starts.”
Backus said it’s not going to be easy to change plans, and said he wants to give families and teachers as much time as possible to prepare.
“There’s a lot of preparation that has to be in place if we do choose to go down the online route,” Backus said. “The sooner we’re able to do that, if that’s going to be our decision, it gives our teachers especially the opportunity to be better prepared for that, and certainly our families to prepare. Being on a hybrid model and being totally online are two very different things, and I feel they have to be prepared for that.”
O’Flaherty said it’s “not fair” that state and federal officials have forced reopening decisions on individual districts.
“Not fair at all, but it is up to us and we do need to make the best decision for everyone,” O’Flaherty said.
Weller said the decision is difficult, but said the board will follow current information in order to make a decision.
“These aren’t easy decisions,” Weller said. “We appreciate everybody’s thoughts and input here. The hard part is there’s no right answer on this topic. If we knew the right answer we would have chosen it by now… Let’s be pragmatic, look at what’s out there, and make decisions accordingly based on what’s presented to us.”
Board member Michael Wiener said he’d like the Delaware General Health District involved in the decision, and the board agreed it would ask health officials to speak at an upcoming meeting.
At the start of the meeting, Superintendent Heidi Kegley thanked the community for their resilience and understanding.
“I just wanted to take a moment to thank our entire school community,” Kegley said. “It’s important as we move forward that we continue to work together collaboratively as we look at what the next days and weeks ahead will hold for us. Special thanks for our entire school community and school board for helping us to lead and be flexible during this time.”
After Kegley’s comments at the beginning of the meeting, Weller agreed and said the board is making decisions with the best intentions and aims to keep staff and students safe.
“Concur with those thoughts,” Weller said. “This is a group effort that we need to continue working together to negotiate this difficult time. I know it’s often upsetting some folks on either end of the spectrum here with some of the decisions that we’ve made, but certainly we’re making those with the best intentions possible, and doing what’s right for all of our students, staff and the school community.”
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.