The Delaware City Schools Board of Education on Tuesday made the decision to stay on the hybrid learning model for the rest of the 2020-2021 school year.
Last month, the board discussed the possibility of returning to five-day in-person education, but during Tuesday’s board meeting, members decided not to alter the district’s current hybrid model, where students are divided into two cohorts and attend classes either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday. The two cohorts also attend in-person classes every other Wednesday on a rotation with the other cohort.
All three of the district’s unions — DCTA, UE and OAPSE — wrote letters to the board regarding the potential move. The longest of those letters came from DCTA and was written by Kim Becker and P.J. Terry, DCTA’s co-presidents. The letter urged the board to stay with the hybrid plan and not move to an all-in model just because all the other districts in the county have.
“We have to continue to do what is best for the students of Delaware city and the community,” the letter reads. “Just because a surrounding district is implementing or doing something, doesn’t mean it is right for DCS … The teachers top priority and concern is the safety of all of our students. We are concerned about being able to follow all mitigation requirements upon a full in-person, five-day-a-week schedule. We hope the community, board members, and administration all understand that is our top priority. We want to help stop the spread of COVID-19, so that we can have a regular school year in the fall.”
Superintendent Heidi Kegley went over the changes that would need to be made within the district to return to the 77% of district students on the hybrid model to five-day in-person education, including opening windows, frequent cleaning, rearranged rooms, and using a rotational model between shared teachers and larger spaces to reduce classes sizes.
She added the data shows an “extremely low” transmission rate of COVID-19 within the schools.
As for the potential move back to all-in education, BOE President Frances O’Flaherty said while she’s encouraged by the data, she saw no reason to change learning models and risk increasing the number of cases.
“We are at a point where we have not had any deaths yet and our rates have been kept very low,” O’Flaherty said. “Speaking for myself, I don’t see a reason to go back with all the students in the classroom so that we back away from the positives we have right now.”
O’Flaherty said moving to the all-in model would require top-to-bottom changes in the district, including to buses, staffing and scheduling.
“No one in this room is taking this decision lightly,” she said. “But it’s extremely complex, and there’s so many aspects involved … I think we need to do what’s best for our students’ education and for their health, and I don’t think putting both cohorts in five days a week is the right thing to do.”
Board member Jayna McDaniel-Browning said other districts in the county have been in a variety of models and their number of infected students and staff are within 1% of each other and Delaware City Schools.
“I think what these numbers are telling is … that we are not spreading COVID widely within our schools,” McDaniel-Browning said. “We have had zero confirmed transmissions within our buildings.”
McDaniel-Browning added she would be in favor of moving to the all-in model.
Board member Ted Backus discussed the differences between the two cohorts, including that one cohort has lost several instructional days to weather and is now behind the other cohort.
“Bringing them back in becomes a challenge … to deliver, for the remainder of this year, an educational model that is beneficial to either group.” he said.
Backus added he’s also hesitant to change anything this late because it would be a disruption to students and their families’ lives, as well as to teachers and staff.
“It’s easy for us to put on paper a plan but the people who really have to implement that plan and have the best knowledge about if that plan can work of if it can’t work, that’s our teachers and staff who are in the building every day,” Backus said. “… what I’m hearing from a majority (of teacher comments) is their concern that we can’t provide the level of protocols to maintain health and safety.”
Backus said he would be in favor of staying on the hybrid model.
Board member Matt Weller said there’s evidence to go down either path.
“Teachers were apprehensive about going back in the fall about the hybrid model and to their credit and the staff’s credit, we’ve knocked it out of the park this year in terms of the safety protocols,” he said.
Weller added he would be in favor of returning to the all-in model and the district would do its best to address concerns.
“For the majority of students, I think we can provide a safe environment for kids and the staff to return to,” Weller said. “Frankly, I think it’s something we owe to our students, our community, and our parents to make that attempt.”
O’Flaherty asked Mackenzie Collett, the student board member, for her perspective on the return to school. Collett cited a survey conducted by Hayes High School senior Andrew Bourget that found that 63% of surveyed Hayes students do not want to switch to all-in learning.
In speaking with her fellow students, Collett said for every student comfortable with all-in learning, there’s another who isn’t.
She added students who want to switch don’t feel like they are learning as well on the hybrid model, and students who have said they don’t want to switch, think it would be more stressful because they’ve already developed a routine, including jobs and study habits around the hybrid schedule.
Board Vice President Michael Wiener discussed the scheduling changes that would happen as a result of the move to all-in education, and Kegley clarified that while the district would avoid it as much as possible, there’s a possibility that students’ schedules, including who their teachers are, could change as a result of the move.
Wiener said that by the time the district could move back to all-in learning, there would only be about seven-and-a-half weeks left in the year, and he worries the move would be “extremely disruptive,” especially since state testing is expected to take up much of the district’s time in April and into May.
“At this point, we need to be focusing on getting these students back in, all-in, in the fall,” Wiener said. “This would be too disruptive to change to all-in for the remainder of the year.”
The board discussed returning to five-day instruction in the fall, and O’Flaherty said that the move back to five-day in-person education in the fall has “always been the plan.”
“That’s never been a question in anyone’s mind,” Backus added.
On Wednesday, the DCTA said it supports the board’s decision.
“Teachers are following all mitigation measures to help keep our students and community safe and to help reduce the spread of the virus,” said Becker on behalf of the DCTA. “Teachers will continue to provide high quality instruction for both in-person and online learning. We are confident that Mrs. Kegley and the board will continue to make decisions that are in the best interest of all stakeholders.”
The board will meet next at 6 p.m. April 12.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.