Fire extinguisher mishap closes Concord High School's auditorium

Concord High School (WDEL/file)

Most Brandywine School District schools have 60% or less of their students learning in the hybrid model, but their superintendent hopes to bring more of their struggling students back into the classrooms.

Superintendent Lincoln Hohler told the Brandywine School Board that his office is currently analyzing second marking period grades and hopes those with large dips in performance will consider getting more in-school help. 

"Identify some students that we believe could benefit from in-school, hybrid instruction that are currently full remote. We'll reach out to some of those parents to see if they are interested; of course, some of them have decided not to engage in any hybrid learning at all this year and stay full-remote. Of course, we'll respect that."

Mount Pleasant has just 28% of their enrolled students in the classroom while the district high are Carrcroft and Harlan at 60%.

Brandywine High School is at 32%, and that's where Rachel Blumenfeld teaches English. She pointed out to the board that there are racial and economic discrepancies among the students in the classroom.

She said that while 44% of Brandywine's enrollment is white, they make up 67% of the hybrid students, while the 41% black population has shrunk to just 23% going into the schools twice a week. She added 50% of students of families making $100,000 or more are back in school, but just 15% of sub-$50,000 households.

"These numbers show that we need to seriously consider how we can best provide an education for all of our students, not just the most privileged."

An additional 220 students have applied to switch from remote to hybrid for the second semester.

There still remains diverging opinions on how Brandywine should handle their remote vs. hybrid structure. Brandywine's primary grades returned to hybrid on January 11, with secondary schools starting on January 19.

Brandywine teacher David Vagnoni said he's not ready to trust that students and teachers should be back in the classrooms.

"Schools are not safe. Kids are way more likely to be asymptomatic, which means that all these studies that DPH and the governor cite are faulty. They rely on people with symptoms getting tested."

Hohler also pointed out that most Brandywine grades are in the middle of the pack compared to other districts in New Castle County when it comes to announced instructional hours.

Brandywine's high school students are getting 6 hours and 15 minutes of learning (Red Clay 6 hours and 50 minutes, Colonial 4 hours and 25 minutes), middle school students are in classrooms for 6 hours and 45 minutes (Red Clay 6 hours and 50 minutes, Christina 4 hours and 45 minutes), while elementary students get a county-low 5 hours and 34 minutes. (Red Clay 6 hours and 50 minutes).

Concord teacher John Schropp said teachers and students need more time.

"We've got to do something to add more minutes to the classroom. Our kids are taking the same SATS, AP tests, going to the same community colleges, they're walking into the work world for the same training programs as kids who are having far more minutes, so we have got to stay back and we've got to change that schedule."

Keeping students in class has value aside from just learning, according to Concord swim coach Matt Hoopes, who said he took time out of his practice on Monday to make sure one of this athletes was okay mentally.

"I pulled one of them out of the water today, and had a 45-minute conversation with him about his emotional state, because it wasn't good. That means something. If I didn't have him and he didn't have me, I don't know where he would be today. That matters, every day it matters."

University of Delaware Physical Therapy professor Dr. Darcy Reisman told the board about a study from the National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice that said New Castle County's rate of 36 hospitalizations per 100,000 people puts Delaware in a comfortable category for reopening schools.

"I understand fully everybody's fears, and I also understand that there is no good solution, and that we're in a difficult position, but I want to be very, very clear, when it comes to data and the science, it is not in question. When the hospitalization rates are below the numbers reported 36-44, as we are in New Castle County, opening schools does not increase COVID hospitalizations."

One area where some Delaware districts have struggled is in keeping enough staff available due to COVID-19 outbreaks or quarantines.

Tamecah Pinkney mentioned that it can take as many as six teachers to replace one that is sent home due to COVID-19 protocols, and that the COVID self-assessments done by teachers and parents can't be taken lightly.

"I believe it encourages dishonesty. For example, employees who lack sufficient sick time or don't want the stigma from being sent home, or those who recognize the turmoil created in buildings by having yet another teacher absent are less likely to complete this form honestly."

Hohler also spoke on Brandywine's COVID-19 quarantine plan, stating there is no specific benchmark in place for moving the district back to remote-only like the red-yellow-green system Delaware was using in the fall.

He said there have been classrooms and even entire grades told to quarantine by the Division of Public Health, but not an entire building. Those decisions are being made with the assistance of contact tracing being initiated by school nurses.