Delaware officials urge schools to resume hybrid learning

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Democratic Gov. John Carney is urging Delaware public school officials to resume hybrid instruction mixing both remote and in-person learning next week after recommending last month that classroom instruction be put on hold because of the coronavirus.

Carney, joined by Director of Public Health Dr. Karyl Rattay and Education Secretary Susan Bunting, sent an open letter to school leaders, teachers and parents urging the resumption of hybrid instruction starting next Monday.

The letter comes just over a month after Carney recommended that schools temporarily cease in-person instruction of students from Dec. 14 to Jan. 8 and resume hybrid learning on Jan. 11. Winter sports competitions were also prohibited during that same period. That decision came just days after Carney continued to maintain that schools were “safe places” and should continue using a hybrid approach of in-person and virtual classroom instruction.

“As we have said many times, we do not believe there is a public health reason to close schools,” Tuesday’s letter reads. “We have spent the past four weeks helping schools try to address the operational challenges they are experiencing. And we can all agree that students learn best when they’re in school.”

“In addition to the more robust and engaging instruction that in-person learning allows, many students rely on schools for meals, counseling, and social and emotional support,” the letter adds.

Administration officials noted that the Department of Education had held 20 meetings with superintendents and teacher representatives in every school district, as well as charter school representatives, to get feedback on the challenges they face. They also reviewed dozens of emails from educators across the state and held a webinar and office hours for school nurses to review updated procedures.

Administration officials also noted that revisions to the quarantine guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control mean that school personnel coming into close contact with a positive COVID case need to quarantine only for 10 days, instead of 14 days — or seven days with a negative test on the fifth day or later.

“This means that school personnel will be able to return to work in half the time, which should mitigate the staffing shortages that forced many schools to shift to fully remote instruction,” the letter states.

Officials on Tuesday also launched a new, schools-focused COVID-19 dashboard that will track the number of contagious cases among staff and students, and offer more details of COVID-19 infection in school buildings. They also are working with districts, charters, and private schools to help get teachers and school personnel vaccinated as soon as possible.

The letter also points to a study of schools in Mississippi that was released by the CDC last month and found that schools are not a significant source of virus spread.

“Moreover, data from our epidemiologists shows that the vast majority of cases affecting students and staff originated outside of the school building,” officials said in the letter. “The few cases thought to result from in-school spread are frequently observed to be in settings where mask-wearing was not consistently practiced.”

Officials suggested three options for schools, starting with returning all students to hybrid learning. Another options is to shift high schools to fully remote learning while resuming hybrid learning in elementary and middle schools,. A third alternative is to shift high schools and middle schools to fully remote learning while offering hybrid learning to elementary school students, students with special needs, English language learners, low-income students and students with internet connectivity challenges.

Meanwhile, state officials reported 947 confirmed or suspected COVID-related deaths as of Monday, and 431 current hospitalizations. More than 500 of those deaths involve residents of long-term care facilities, who account for less than 1% of Delaware population.

As of this week, Delaware has received 50,725 doses of coronavirus vaccine, but only 15,460 doses of vaccine had been administered, a usage rate that is slightly below the national average, according to a Bloomberg vaccine tracker.

“There’s a plan for all of these doses,” Rattay said. ”.... The holidays have made this a tough way to get started.”


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