Caesar Rodney High School

A 90-minute town hall held by members of Delaware's legislature looked to focus attention on how schools will reopen in the fall, but it didn't impress at least one parent.

"What I've listened to for the last hour have been excuses and potential hurdles as to why it might not be possible to bring our children back yet I haven't heard a single solution," said Tabitha Myers during the public comment section at the end of the discussion.

The town hall was hosted by state Representatives Andria Bennett (D-32nd) and Bill Bush (D-29th) from Kent County and focused primarily on the Caesar Rodney School District.

District Superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald told the panel that his colleagues throughout Delaware are facing the same issues when it comes to reopening.

"The challenges that we face revolve around transportation, social distancing aspect as far as cafeterias, and social distancing in the classrooms."

While Governor Carney announced earlier this week that Delaware will go from six feet to three feet for most indoor social distancing situations, the specific rules are still being worked out by the Division of Public Health (DPH).

Jamie Mack, Chief of Health Systems Protections for the DPH was at the town hall and warned even as new guidance comes out, it comes with some potential pitfalls.

"We're changing from six feet to three feet because we're seeing the situation improve in Delaware, but the CDC is not changing their definition of close contact. We have to keep some of that in mind, that will still be that 'six-feet for 15 minutes' thing that we've been talking about for some time."

Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting added one major hurdle--the rule that school buses are capped to 23 students has yet to be addressed.

"We have not heard at the department any change in the current direction in the state for buses," she said.

Mack said that bus rule is part of an ongoing discussion.

"We're having conversations now, and certainly waivers and other strategies are a part of that. We're going to continue those conversations to make sure we come up for the best solutions looking towards summer school, if necessary, and then the fall."

One possible solution involves having buses do three runs instead of two, which would make driving a bus a full-time position in larger districts, adding costs.

In addition, Fitzgerald said school transportation faces an even bigger issue.

"There are not enough bus drivers. Bus contractors are going out of business. We face a crisis with, and without, COVID. The crisis existed before COVID, it became much worse with it. Most of our bus drivers are older individuals, and it's just isn't worth their while anymore. Unless we tackle this problem now, unless the legislature really gets behind it, we're going to find ourselves not having bus drivers when everyone can come back to school and everything returns to a new normal."

Fitzgerald, and a few of the parent commenters at the end, emphasized the state needs to start pushing towards decision time, noting that usually by this time of year districts are completing scheduling and working on preliminary bus routes, something they can't do until they know if they'll be hybrid or fully in-person.

"We've sent a very strong message, we believe, to the governor's education adviser and everyone else who will listen to us, that rather than in the middle of the summer, which is tough, we need the decision prior to the start of summer school."

The CR leader also said he knows that hybrid can't be the 2021-22 solution with 90% of the district's families in a recent survey saying they wanted the full-time, in-person option to start next year.

"The best place for our students is in a classroom with a teacher. I know that, Dr. Bunting echoes that, along with my colleagues up and down the state. We are extremely appreciative of the legislative support, by putting all of our heads together we can beat this COVID thing, and get back to school on a full-time basis."

At the beginning of the night, Rep. Bush was optimistic that schools will be open full-time by August.

"Everyone here has come from a place of 'yes.' Everyone I've talked to, everyone wants these kids to get next year back five-days-a-week, and I know everyone is committed to making that happen, and we will make that happen, and I think you'll hear that tonight."

At least in Tabitha Myers' mind, she seems to still be waiting for those answers.