by Terry Rogers
On Monday, July 20, Milford School District Board of Education spent several hours discussing the State of Delaware School Reopening Plan which was released on Thursday, July 16. Superintendent Dr. Kevin Dickerson, went through the document allowing board members to ask questions as he did.
“We just received the plan on Thursday at 4 PM so we have only had a little time to look over everything,” Dr. Dickerson said. “We needed to go through and see where we needed to make plans depending on which of the three scenarios the state says we are able to use. We know there are people who are going to be cautious and not want their children in a classroom while others want their child to go to school. We understand we need significant family input, especially as we move forward, we want our families to have some choices.”
Board Member David Vezmar pointed out that there was a regular Board Meeting planned for August 3 and he felt that this meeting would be for the board to ask planning-related questions.
“On August 3, we will probably be in the decision-making process,” Vezmar said. “I know that we normally have public comment at the beginning of the meeting. I know that there will be parents and community members who have questions and concerns. If possible, we need to either move public comment after the discussion about the reopening of schools or add an additional public comment section so that people can be heard. I also think we need to have a minimalized agenda on August 3 as we may spend a lot of time on this.”
The state issued a 34-page document outlining three scenarios that districts would follow depending on the spread of COVID-19 in early August. Scenario 1 would be fully open with students in classrooms but with social distancing and face covering requirements. Scenario 2 would be a hybrid version of school with some virtual learning and some classroom learning. If COVID-19 cases were widespread in the district, Scenario 3 would be totally remote learning like what students used in the spring. Vezmar asked whether the district was locked into the Scenario 2 if that is what the state suggests or could they err on the side of caution and remain in Scenario 3.
“I am participating in more statewide meetings this week,” Dr. Dickerson said. “I know we have some flexibility to craft the plan we use but I am not sure how much flexibility we have. We will have to get some guidance on this as we move forward.”
Dr. Dickerson explained that when the work groups in the district read the proposals from the state, they decided that any area shown as something the district “should” do, Milford would make a “must” do. He explained that face coverings and hygiene practices will be required. Although the district has some flexibility with face coverings in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 3, during the summer program, the district has required face coverings for all students with no issues. The district has a supply of one-time use masks that can be given to students who don’t have a face covering or who forget to bring one to school.
“We do have some issues with students who don’t grasp the concept of six feet,” Dr. Dickerson said. “We will have some situations where we will need a little more support. What we are seeing with the face-coverings is that students are not having an issue with them. The district has been able to purchase face coverings with a clear section so students can see the mouth of the teacher, something that is important for ESL and other language classes.” Laura Manges, Director of Student Services, explained that any student or teacher who has a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a face covering will be handled on a case-by-case basis. Students will be permitted to wear their own masks and guidelines will be provided regarding what constitutes an appropriate face-covering to meet school dress code.
Board Member Rony Baltzar-Lopez suggested that the district err on the side of caution considering the proximity of the district to the beach area where there have been upticks in cases. He also reminded the Board that the district has 37 percent low income students and that no matter what method is chosen, those students must be taken into consideration so that they do not fall any farther behind.
“I’ve made no secret about the fact that I personally do not feel it is a good idea to put kids in classrooms in September,” Vezmar said. “If we remain in the current state, a full no school building, I would suggest that teachers, at least those who want to do so, be able to teach from their classroom using Zoom or whatever method they choose. They have their smart boards, their supplies. I think that may make it easier for the teacher, it would be one person in the classroom, so I think that might make things a little less stressful.”
Jon LoBiondo, Director of Transportation, explained that transportation was particularly challenging with the state recommendations.
“I was glad that we had summer school as we were able to attempt transportation on a much smaller scale,” LoBiondo said. “Other districts have been watching us to see how transportation to summer school goes and I have been very pleased. Our concerns are that if we do the social distancing we must do on buses, we can have 22 students on the bus. We have buses in the district with 50 to 60 children on them. We will need to double the bus capacity, whether with additional runs or added buses to make this happen.”
Bus contractors and drivers were given the same cleaning products used by the schools in classrooms. After each run, the drivers and contractors spray and wipe the handrails, backs of seats and any seat where a child was sitting. Drivers and students are required to wear face coverings, but the district is allowing face shields should a driver or student prefer that type of covering.
Anyone who has suggestions, questions or comments can email Dr. Dickerson at KDickerson@milford.k12.de.us. Public comment will be permitted at the August 3 board meeting which will be held virtually. The link for the meeting will be posted on the meeting agenda under the Board tab on the Milford School District website.