Brandywine School District students conduct class in a hybrid learning format

Pre-K through first grade students made their transition from virtual-only to hybrid last week, and Brandywine superintendent Lincoln Hohler said as he walked the halls of Mount Pleasant Elementary School, he found joy.

"Let me tell you, the most gratifying part of the reopening was walking through the classrooms and seeing the smiles and the giggles and children's faces lighting up as they said 'Mr. [Matt] Auerbach is that really you?' because that was the first time they had met their principal Mr. Auerbach."

Brandywine is in the early stages if their hybrid reopening plan that continues with grades 2-3 on November 30, 4-5 on December 7, and then middle and high school students on December 14.

That is currently the plan, but as Hohler told the Brandywine School Board Monday night, it "comes with an asterisk."

"I would advise parents who currently have students who are coming back to hybrid, or plan to come back to hybrid, to make alternate plans just in case that data continues in its current trend and we need to revert and pivot back to remote instruction for all students."

His concern comes from the latest data from the Delaware Division of Public Health, and its school reopening criteria. 

Delaware has now gone three straight weeks with over 100 new cases per 100,000 people, making that metric red on a red, yellow, green scale.

The state is also seeing about 13 average daily hospitalizations per 100,000 people, putting Delaware on the yellow side of a green-yellow line.

The tipping point is a metric that only has been used for four weeks, the percent positive, or the percentage of positives out of all tests conducted on a certain day.

The rolling average for last week was 5.4%, with 8.0% being the trigger that would send that metric into red, and Delaware's schools to close.

The latest released data is for Nov. 13, with 5,991 tests netting 381 cases, for a 6.4% percent positive, the highest daily mark since July 5, but still reasonably below the 8.0% circuit breaker.

Preliminary data for November 14 and 15 both show that percentage dipping slightly, but Hohler said superintendents across the state are keeping a keen eye on that number.

"Last Friday was had an extensive phone conference in which many officials from the Delaware Department of Health joined the conversation. We spoke about the data, and the data trends, and yes, the data trends are starting to become alarming."

Governor Carney is scheduled to address Delaware at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday, and it's possible he could announce changes after New Jersey, Maryland, and Philadelphia have all added restrictions in regards to schools, restaurants, or gathering limits over the past week.

Hohler did address Brandywine's plan for spectators in winter sports, including basketball and wrestling.

"Winter sport spectators will be limited to one spectator per athlete, per game, for all sports."

One winter sport Hohler said the district would not take part in is indoor track, a sport currently without a home, and whose championship site of Landover, Maryland just banned Washington Football Team spectators at the neighboring FedEx Field.

"Indoor track will usually run the hallways, they don't have any in-state meets, and DIAA has cancelled all out-of-state competitions. For that reason, we have chosen not to move forward with indoor track."

Board president John Skrobot said the board is pleased with Hohler's plan for the district, and said they've tried to be flexible, especially in an environment where pleasing everyone with decisions is impossible.

"We are prepared to make the move when we need to. I think we will continue to do that. It's not an easy decision, everybody has their position on one side or the other and are passionate about it. We respect that, and we're trying to keep our students needs in the forefront and balance that with our teachers and staff needs that are on the front lines." 

Whether the "joy" that Hohler described continues, may come down to the math of a percent positive, or a decision by a governor.