Facing a dwindling student population and the challenge of balancing hybrid and remote learners, the Red Clay School Board approved class size waivers for remote classrooms at ten elementary schools.
The Delaware Department of Education requires districts to get a waiver from their school boards if elementary classrooms have more than 22 students.
26 classrooms, all remote, exceed that number in Red Clay, with 10 having 23-25 students, and another 16 with more than 26, capped by a 40-student, two-cohort classroom at North Star Elementary.
655 students are in the affected virtual classes, with four classrooms each at Heritage and Brandywine Springs. Cooke, Forest Oak, Highlands, Lewis, Linden Hill, Marbrook, and Richardson Park are also affected.
Superintendent Dorrell Green told the board that there was an emphasis on making sure the in-person classrooms met the state standards, but tackling the challenge of teaching the 36% of students remotely became tough, when the community pushed for the remote model to be taught by Red Clay teachers.
"They've either cohorted, they're being supported by their administrators, or they're being supported by additional resources. We've used every available resource in Red Clay. So much so that even my staff had to support a school. [Jill] Flora, our CFO, was in a school working car lines."
Director of Early Education Dr. Amy Grundy said to add the additional staff required to bring those classes in line with state standards would have cost $2.6 million, and a recent finding of reduced attendance in the district could create an even bigger budget issue.
"We know that unit count is significantly down, so we don't have the money to even fund the staff. Dorrell and I are working on this right now, we're trying to make up and fill the hole, so I will tell you right now, there's absolutely no way that $2.6 million could be found locally, even if you could find the teachers, with the unit count."
Red Clay is expected to lose 23 units after the delayed September 30 count, those units are used to calculate how much funding districts receive from the state.
For that reason, Board President Catherine Thompson led the 5-2 vote in favor of the waiver.
"I believe that $2.6 million of local money is unsustainable, and is the fastest way to lead to a financial crisis for Red Clay. As a result, I support the class size waiver."
Dr. Adriana Bohm led the dissent, citing concern over the larger class size, but not providing any suggestions on how to pay for the extra staff.
"Introducing larger class sizes makes teaching and learning more difficult, and I will always be opposed to granting a waiver to increase a class size because as an educator, I know that's not a solution to any problem that we have."
Class size waivers, for either remote or hybrid, have been approved by the other school boards in New Castle County.
Green also reported that 8,500 students and 1,000 staff members have returned to Red Clay in the hybrid format, and they have learned of 31 cases throughout the staff and student population, but said that contract tracing through their schools' nurses and the Department of Public Health have not shown that any have originated or spread within the schools.
He also said they were waiting for more information from the DIAA on winter sports plans before deciding which sports and any plans will take place this fall. It's unclear at the moment how Governor Carney's tightening of COVID restrictions will affect member schools ahead of November 30's first day of scheduled practice.