Skyline Middle School

Red Clay Superintendent Dorrell Green and the district's school board listened to multiple public comments, who said remote learning was proving to be a struggle after the first week-plus of the school year.

One of them was a tearful plea from Ashley Sokira.

"You see as a parent, I wasn't given a choice. I wasn't given an option to change the course of direction of which my kid receives services. I wasn't told why my voice wasn't [heard] when I filled out countless surveys over the summer pleading please come up with a safe way to get back to school. Our kids need to be back in school, and we need to see the plan to to do so."

Only three Delaware traditional public school districts, all of them downstate -- Cape Henlopen, Woodbridge, and Seaford -- plus Kent County Vo-Tech school Polytech opened in a hybrid format, the place Red Clay is hoping to reach by October 19 after a six-week virtual start to the year.

Green acknowledged the many concerns during his statement at the board's monthly meeting Wednesday.

"To our families, I apologize, sincerely, to the pressure you're feeling in your own homes. This isn't anything that I personally...if I could sit in each and every one of your homes and create an individual plan for you and your family to make you, your child, and your families whole, I would gladly do it. As a county and a state, as we look where we are, we're looking at the guidance and trying to put it in play as best we can."  

The guidance is where the challenge falls for many public school administrators. Classrooms are supposed to have six-foot social distancing standards, which Brandywine School District Superintendent Lincoln Hohler said last month was taking some of the district's 28-person classrooms down to 11 person capacity.

Green also brought up that H.B. duPont Middle School has five bus runs into the city of Wilmington, and each of those 68-person buses would be limited to just 23 people, stretching their assets even further.

Green revealed some of the results from a district survey of 8.592 families -- about 56% of the district -- asking whether they would prefer to have their students in school or stay remote.

He listed several district schools and their in-person requests:

  • Cooke Elementary - 75%
  • H.B. duPont Middle - 74% (54% need transportation)
  • Heritage Elementary - 71%
  • Brandywine Springs Elementary - 70%
  • North Star Elementary - 65%
  • Conrad Schools of Science - 64%
  • Richey Elementary - 63%
  • Cab Calloway School of the Arts - 63%
  • The John Dickinson School - 60%
  • Meadowood Program - 58%
  • McKean High School - 56%
  • Forest Oak Elementary - 55%
  • Linden Hill Elementary - 55%
  • Richardson Park Elementary - 53%
  • Skyline Middle - 52%
  • Warner Elementary - 52%
  • A.I. duPont High - 48%

Green said that split continues to create major challenges, considering many classrooms will be reduced to below 50% capacity by the state's coronavirus mandates.

"We truly are committed to our educators. This isn't about window-dressing; this isn't about putting a glossy plan on paper to make Red Clay look good. This is the reality that this is a community that is split and divided on a number of things, but more importantly, on how we stand on reopening. It is our hope we can galvanize around the needs of our communities and our individual schools to really look at equity and prioritize how we phase in reopening," Green said.

Green added he's received plenty of response from families, both for reopening schools and the athletics programs, but said it is a challenge to find the right balance, when information can be wide-ranging.

"For every article or research paper I read that says one thing, I can find four of five that will say the opposite. We have to follow the guidelines that are put out by the state, and we're trying our best to implement those guidelines, but more importantly do it in a safe and orderly fashion."

Besides Cape Henlopen, Seaford, Woodbridge, and Polytech, there are six charter schools in Delaware also opening in a hybrid format. Some private schools opened the year in hybrid mode as well while other are nearly fully back in the classroom, as they don't fall under the requirement set by the Delaware Department of Education to start remote or hybrid, although all have put in the DDOE's social distancing restrictions.

In order for schools to operate fully, the most likely pathway is to get Delaware's percent positive testing rate below 3%, according to Governor Carney. Last week, the percent of positive tests was 5.9%, the highest it has been in several months. Days later, it rose to 7.1%. Delaware has had just one week, since May, with a rate below 3%. 

Delaware could also get there if the new daily cases per 100,000 people rate dipped below 10, but in the past two months, it hasn't gone any lower than 47.8, and last week's average was 66.2.