Following his recommendation that schools pause in-person learning for about a month to help quell rising novel coronavirus COVID-19 cases within the community, Governor John Carney on Tuesday issued a call for schools to return to hybrid learning with in-person instruction soon.
After advising their closure through January 8, 2021, Carney recommended schools target Monday, January 11, for reopening, backed by recommendations from the leaders of Delaware's Division of Public Health and state Department of Education.
“As we have said many times, we do not believe there is a public health reason to close schools,” said Carney, Dr. Karyl Rattay and Secretary Dr. Susan Bunting in a letter issued Tuesday. “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. For all of these reasons, we are recommending that districts and schools make every effort to return to hybrid learning on January 11.”
Full hybrid instruction should also prioritize younger and more vulnerable students to circumvent operational challenges, officials said.
“It’s a testament to the hard work of students, educators and staff that the number of COVID-positive students and staff is so low,” the letter read. “Moreover, data from our epidemiologists shows that the vast majority of cases affecting students and staff originated outside of the school building. The few cases thought to result from in-school spread are frequently observed to be in settings where mask-wearing was not consistently practiced.”
Throughout the recommended closures, officials said they've conducted the following steps to determine when would be an appropriate time to reopen.
- The Department of Education held 20 separate meetings with superintendents and teacher representatives in every district, as well as charter school representatives, to hear feedback on the challenges they face.
- The Department of Education and the Office of the Governor have reviewed dozens of emails from educators across the state who shared their experiences teaching during the pandemic.
- The Division of Public Health and Department of Education issued an FAQ document and held a webinar and office hours for school nurses to review updated procedures.
- The Office of the Governor, the Division of Public Health, and the Department of Education, met several times with every superintendent in the state, along with charter and private school representatives, to hear their concerns and answer questions.
"We took a pause two weeks before Christmas, preceding the Christmas holiday break and almost two weeks after Christmas, to meet with teachers and educators across our state, to meet with school superintendents to address data concerns and really, to demonstrate what every governor and every public health agency in the country and around the world knows, which is that schools are safer places," Carney said during his weekly press conference Tuesday. "Among the safest in our community."
Coronavirus case numbers are higher now than when schools first went remote early in the pandemic. The difference? Now, public health officials said they have data that shows spread is not occurring in school settings. Rattay cited a study conducted in Mississippi that showed, of 400 students who tested positive for COVID-19, they were most likely to have attended gatherings like weddings, parties, playdates, or funerals, but not more likely to have attended in-person instruction at any facility.
The state as also debuted a brand new dashboard which provides more school-specific information, including a district-level breakdown of COVID-19 cases tied to in-person learners and staff, to help alleviate parental concerns about COVID in the educational system, be it public, private, or charter.
"We've been hearing from the public and those in the school setting that they want more of that data" Rattay said. "They want more of that data that helps them understand what's going on in the school setting cumulatively, and by week. And so what this particular area of the dashboard shows you is either by school district--public districts, charter, or private--it tells you the number of in-person contagious cases...in the past week, and cumulatively."
Read the full letter to district leaders, educators and parents: