Milford School District Board of Education received information at their most recent meeting regarding recommendations for districts, charter and private schools for the 2021-22 school year based on information provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Delaware Department of Public Health (DPH). According to Dr. Kevin Dickerson, Superintendent, the district is moving forward with the presented protocols until additional guidance is provided.
“We are continuing the protocols we have had through the spring and through summer school,” Dr. Dickerson said. “Even though the state of emergency has been lifted by the Governor and the state, we are still encouraged by DPH and also DOE to continue following the guidance they have provided. We are going to have some decisions that need to be made prior to the start of the school year. We are in the planning process for fall at this time and there are some protocols that have been relaxed that will allow us to bring all students back into the classroom.”
One protocol that the CDC continues to recommend is that students and staff continue to wear face coverings at all times and that social distancing of three feet be maintained when possible. When students are not in the building, staff may remove masks.
“This is the CDC guidance at this point, and I think we are going to review that in order to make decisions for the fall,” Dr. Dickerson said. “I will say that the priority right now is to have all students back inside the school. If we cannot maintain a distancing of three feet, we must have other strategies in place and that is where the discussion on masks must come in.”
The guidance also recommends regular testing for unvaccinated individuals. Dr. Jason Peel, Director of Human Resources and School Climate, explained that the district was working on having antigen testing available for all students and staff.
“The antigen test would require a permission slip from the parents,” Dr. Peel said. “If we have 50 people at one school who are interested in that type of testing, we would be able to organize it on a regular basis. There would be an outside agency who would come in and perform the testing, so it would not require any of our personnel. It is a nasal swab, but not the original swab that goes deep inside the nose, but just inside the nose. They process it right there and an answer is provided right away. The whole purpose of the program is to identify asymptomatic people in the population. The test would also be available to staff.”
Dr. Dickerson also explained that one decision the district did not have to make was whether students must wear masks on school buses as this was required by the CDC. He also stated that the district would still need to quarantine positive students although close contacts who have been vaccinated do not have to quarantine, but it was important to remember that students who were 12 and under were unable to get the vaccine at this time. The district was also working on improved classroom ventilation based on the CDC recommendations.
“One good thing with the guidance now is that we can have more than 23 students on a school bus,” Dr. Dickerson said. “We can now have 48 although they do recommend that we spread out as much as possible. Students do have to wear a mask on the bus. We have a COVID coordinator, Ms. [Yvonne] White who is working very closely with Dr. Peel. Ms. White brings a medical perspective and did a phenomenal job with this last year. CDC also recommends that we still continue to encourage people who are sick or who do not feel well to avoid sending their children to school or employees not to report to work if they are ill. We still have some decisions to make in regard to mask wearing as a couple districts are coming out with masks being optional for students. Many of us are staying with our protocols through summer school, monitoring the climate to make the best decision we can for our students.”
Board member Jean Wylie asked how the Delta variant could impact the start of school.
“This is something we have talked about in our meetings,” Dr. Dickerson said. “We are unsure at this time. I think we are all closely trying to monitor the impact of the Delta variant, especially in the local community.”
School Board Vice-President Rony Baltazar-Lopez asked if students must wear masks while they are outside, such as at recess.
“When students are outside at this point, they do not have to wear masks,” Dr. Dickerson said. “It is just inside at this time. When they eat or drink, obviously they can remove the mask, but as of right now, when students are in school, they must wear a mask. Even we as staff must wear masks inside at this point in time.”
Jason Miller, School Board President, asked what the protocol was for quarantining a student who tested positive.
“The new guidance is that anyone who was within six feet for 15 minutes or more must be quarantined,” Dr. Dickerson said. “Last year, if someone was not wearing a mask in the classroom and tested positive, the entire classroom had to be quarantined, but now the new guidance includes not only distance but time.”
The board will be asked to make decisions about masks and other guidelines at a future board meeting.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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