by Terry Rogers
UPDATE 12/4/20 – On Thursday, December 3, Governor John Carney recommended that schools in Delaware consider returning to virtual learning starting Monday, December 14 and continue that method of teaching until January 8, 2021. The decision has been left up to each district. Milford School District plans to evaluate the best course of action over the weekend and make a decision regarding hybrid learning early next week.
On Monday, Milford School District notified parents that all children would return to a virtual learning method for one day as they assessed a rise in COVID-19 cases. The School Reopening Plan issued by the State of Delaware in August required schools to remain in virtual learning if case numbers were in the “Red Zone.”
“The Division of Public Health and the Governor’s Office continue to inform us that schools provide a safe environment for students and staff, including after release of the school reopening dashboard on Monday which resulted in our pause,” Trish Gerken, Public Information Officer for Milford School District said. “We have relied heavily on DPH guidance throughout the fall and will continue to do so as we proceed. In addition, the CDC has stated similar views regarding the school environment being safe. DPH has also conveyed the spread of the virus is not being found within school. We have not experienced spread within our schools currently as well. Our school nurses have done an outstanding job in tracking cases and exposures and taking great care of our students, staff and families.”
Gerken explained that feedback from parents whose children are attending the hybrid model has been positive. She stated that parents are appreciative that their children are back in school and pleased with the efforts of staff to keep them safe. Gerken also stated that many families would like to see their children in the classroom more days each week.
“Our families and community have been very supportive of us during these times, overall, and we appreciate their understanding of some of the present challenges,” Gerken said. “Our students who have been in school have been excited to be in and look forward to their days at school. If a parent no longer feels comfortable sending their child into the classroom, we are working with families, assisting them with moving their child from hybrid to remote learning. We have seen an increase in students moving from hybrid to remote as positive COVID-19 cases continue to rise in our district, community, state and nation.”
Milford High School grades 9 through 12 began hybrid learning this week after the district delayed their hybrid start due to COVID cases.
“Our in-person MHS students seemed to have a positive experience on Monday and our staff was excited to welcome them back,” Gerken said. “Our ninth-grade hybrid students were able to experience a successful transition earlier in the month. The high school is using a concurrent model for hybrid learning which enables in-person and remote students to participate simultaneously in the same class. We are proud of our high school staff for engaging in the concurrent model and thankful for their efforts in implementing this model as it best serves our high school students. We are also excited that we have teachers piloting this model in our lower grades and figuring out how this can work with our younger students.”
When the district becomes aware of a positive COVID-19 case in a student or staff member, their first step is to notify the Lead School Nurse who serves as the COVID Coordinator and is in direct contact with DPH. The nurse contacts the family of the person who has tested positive to check on their well-being and to ensure that the student does not return to school. Questions are asked to determine the situation in the household and ascertain who the positive individual may have encountered.
“The COVID Coordinator then works closely with a DPH epidemiologist regarding contact tracing and getting additional guidance,” Gerken said. “Through emails and robocalls, we notify families and staff of positive cases of individuals within our schools. We also communicate guidance to any close contacts within our schools and others who are asked to closely monitor their symptoms. The Lead School Nurse follows up with the School Nurse in the school with the positive case to ensure schools are aware of how long the individual is expected to remain out of school and the length of quarantine, as well as what is needed for the individual to be cleared and return to school.”
Families are asked to monitor their child’s symptoms daily and to check for symptoms each morning. If students are experiencing any symptoms or not feeling well, Gerken explained that parents should remain home that day and symptoms continually monitored.
“We have taken the extra step of performing temperature checks each morning as students enter the building, which has worked out very well,” Gerken said. “If students have symptoms while they are in school, they are sent to the school nurse for evaluation. If there are students with COVID-like symptoms, they are placed in an isolation area overseen by the school nurse and we work with families to have the student return home for the day. We have students stay home until they are symptom free for at least 48 hours or they provide a doctor’s release.”
Gerken stated that the district will continue to follow the statewide reopening status dashboard and consult with DPH regarding virus spread to be sure that all Milford School District schools operate safely.