Brandywine High School

Brandywine School District superintendent Lincoln Hohler said he "fully supported" the DIAA's shift of high school athletics to begin in December, but after last week's decision to begin sports next Monday, he will give his district's schools a chance to play.

Hohler announced that athletes from his three high schools: Concord, Brandywine, and Mount Pleasant, will get the chance to compete, but not before saying that the DIAA's back-and-forth has put them in a tough spot.

"As superintendent, I am disappointed in how this whole issue has been handled, and how it has played out in the past three weeks. With the planned start of practice a week away, specific guidance on certain aspects still remain unanswered, putting the district, our athletic directors, and our building administrators in precarious and uncomfortable positions." 

The DIAA reversed their decision in August to suspended sports into December earlier this month by saying they would begin practices on September 28, a week before the strongest recommendation of school leaders. 

It was approved by the State Board of Education in a contentious 4-3 vote last Thursday.

Among the issues facing schools throughout Delaware is a prolonged, uncertain process to get their gyms approved by the Delaware Division of Public Health for indoor activities.

Some schools have reported up to a 10-day delay, meaning it is possible some gyms may not be available for the planned September 28 start of volleyball practices. It could also be an issue on rainy days for soccer, field hockey, cross country, and football.

Hohler said he will be holding Brandywine schools to the strictest of guidelines, even as those rules are still trickling out, including gathering restrictions that are expected to be discussed at a special DIAA Board meeting on Thursday.

"If, for any reason, the Department of Public Health approved recommendations for a sport cannot be fully implemented, as prescribed, the sport team shall not meet until all recommendations are fully, and thoroughly, implemented."

One of the mandates to compete in moderate-to-high risk sports in Delaware will be to wear masks, and Hohler emphasized the DIAA's request that if anyone might have an issue with wearing them, or any other medical condition, go to a medical professional first.

"The CDC points out that student-athletes who have asthma, diabetes, and other health problems may be at higher risk for severe illness. Parents, please have that discussion with your primary health provider."

Five-to-seven schools or districts responded to a DIAA superintendent survey earlier this month that was released at the DIAA Board of Directors meeting saying they would not let their athletes compete if the delayed December start was moved back to September.

There's no evidence whether Brandywine was one of those schools -- to this point no school in Delaware has announced they will suspend themselves from fall competition -- but Hohler said his inbox has been a place of strong debate over the topic.

"Over the last three and a half months, I've received hundreds of emails from parents and community members from both sides of the issue. Some urging the allowance of sports, while some pleading to not return to sports at this time."

Hohler announced that Brandywine schools will be offering varsity and an expanded JV program, but no freshman teams. Red Clay announced last week they will be offering varsity, and hoped to offer some JV competition late in the season.

Besides the sports debate, Brandywine is also continuing to work on their plan to return students into the classrooms for the second marking period.

Hohler said a parent survey will be going out on Thursday, September 24, asking if there is a preference for in-school or continued remote learning. It will be found on each school's website, and parents will be asked to respond to each school directly.

A similar survey released by Red Clay last week found that about 60% of its districts families wished for in-person learning to resume.

Schools are limited by social distancing guidelines to 23 students on a bus and six feet social distancing (without mask) or three feet (with a mask) distancing of desks in classrooms, reducing capacity by 40-65% depending on the classroom layout.

Granting the wishes of parents to return to school, even in hybrid format, remains a major topic of conversation in Delaware, where just Cape Henlopen, Seaford, Woodbridge, and Polytech are in a hybrid format, with all other public and vo-tech schools in Delaware operating like Brandywine, remote-only.

Hohler also said that Brandywine distributed 7,000 devices for remote learning over a four day period, but had to temporarily supplement their Chromebook supply with laptops and iPads "for their youngest learners," as they wait for a nationwide shortage to cycle through, they hope by mid-October.