Cooke Elementary School

Cooke Elementary School led Red Clay School District schools with 75% of their families wanting to return to school in the district's hybrid model, and now some of their teachers are saying the district is struggling to make that work.

Red Clay moves into Phase 2 of their Roadmap to Reopening to begin the second marking period on November 2.

Elementary students who chose in-person learning will go into the classroom four days a week, while grades 6-12 will do two days remote, two days-in person, with all students having one asynchronous day a week.

Going back to school four days a week becomes a challenge when well more than half of a school's population wants to return into the building.

Jeff Sammons, a fourth-grade teacher at Cooke, said the blueprint he's seen for his 16-student classroom doesn't seem safe to him.

"The most movement teachers will be able to offer with our class sizes is that students can choose to sit or stand while working. Three-foot spacing between desks does not allow for any extra room in our classrooms to walk without brushing between desks."

The biggest point of contention is whether Red Clay should use a mandatory 6-foot separation between desks, as prescribed by Appoquimink, Colonial, and Brandywine School Districts, or use the 3-foot with mask, that is the Delaware Department of Education minimum.

Superintendent Dorrell Green said that tighter standard is an option, but not the district's preference.

"Three feet is a minimum standard, that is not the standard across the district as we look to provide in-person learning for those who chose it."

Randall Stone, another Cooke teacher, questioned the school board why elementary students were not being split in groups like older learners.

"There is a logical solution to our overcrowded classrooms at the elementary level, make two cohort groups. Do half-days, or two days per week plus an asynchronous day."

According to a presentation at the board meeting, Green said Red Clay has added staff to Cooke, and added a 5th classroom at each grade level, hoping to help with the spread. New furniture is also being ordered to help give more flexibility in seating arrangements.

Outside of Cooke specifically, there were also public comments for and against the return of students in general, but Green said the struggle continues, when there are so many diverging opinions on what is right.

"To think we're making these decisions lightly, we're not. To think that we're willingly wanting to put our staff members in jeopardy, we're not. We continue to work with, and refine plans, and understand that as a community, regardless of the survey, we're going to be split."