Decoding the Statewide School Reopening Framework
On Wednesday, June 15, the State of Delaware announced guidance for reopening of schools for the 2020-21 academic year. Governor John Carney and Secretary of Education Susan Bunting in a press conference emphasized the importance of returning to in-person instruction, while balancing safety for students and the state.
The guidance builds on recommendations from three working groups comprised of a cross-section of education stakeholders including educators, parents, nonprofit and community leaders, and legislators, as well as a state survey of over 20,000 stakeholders, and feedback from the public. It was inspired by Opportunity Labs, a national think-tank behind the Return to School Roadmap, which provides evidence-based advice, resources and support at the intersection of public health and public education to affect a safe, efficient and equitable return to school.
The Rodel team listened in to each meeting of the three working groups and reviewed the guidance.
Here are our key takeaways:
- The guidance does:
- Include recommendations for WHAT districts and charters SHOULD do now, before the school year, and when the school year starts.
- Apply to districts and charter schools. Private schools are encouraged to follow. Minimum requirements for social distancing, mask-wearing, hand-washing and other basic precautions will apply to all schools.
- Include planning recommendations for a number of topics within academics/equity, health/wellness, and operations (see below) for three different scenarios depending on the spread of COVID-19:
- The guidance states “As of July 2020, Delaware is experiencing minimal to moderate community spread, and schools will likely reopen for the 2020-21 school year in a new environment, requiring innovative models for delivering instruction and supporting the social and emotional wellness of students, their families, and staff.”
- Include Health and Safety Directives that are inclusive of updated public health information as of July 2020, and may be updated if conditions change. They include:
- The guidance does NOT:
- Make final judgments for whether school building should be open, closed, or a hybrid. That decision will be made by Gov. Carney and health officials in August.
- Tell districts and charters HOW to make these recommendations a reality, nor does it require anything of districts and charters.
- Additional context
- The framework focuses on addressing unfinished learning, which the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) defines as, “any prerequisite knowledge or skills that students need for future work that they don’t have yet… unfinished learning…seems to inspire action rather than focusing on student deficits.” Read more about unfinished learning in our blog.
- We know some Delaware districts are working with national partners to plan for reopening school. Many districts and charters are surveying parents and families, and many are putting together their own local working groups for reopening school. For more resource to help districts and charters operationalize these recommendations and plan for the fall, see our other recent blog.
- In terms of funding, schools and districts suffered some cuts for the upcoming school year, but we know that the FY21 budget largely protects school funding. The general consensus is that schools will face additional expenses next year to meet additional health and safety requirements, as well as the social, emotional, and academic needs of students. Delaware districts, charters, DDOE, and the governor’s office received funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that must be spent by September 2022. Congress is actively debating further aid packages.
Planning Recommendations: Key issues and Recommendations:
Academics and Equity
Key issues surfaced during working group discussion largely echoed what we heard from our community survey, like the need for Wi-Fi/broadband, mental health supports, supports for English learner students and students with disabilities, low-income and homeless students and professional development and communication for educators and families. Some additional nuance included:
- Needing a specific plan to serve low-income and homeless students
- The importance of assessments to gauge where students are and what they need to learn
- The reality that many important decisions and plans are needed in a short amount of time. A strong instructional start depends on clear communication, orientation, and professional development for educators and families to understand each scenario and plan
- Staffing decisions, especially in a hybrid model: Which students/teachers/staff have to go into schools and which don’t? And how will schools staff remote and in-person classes? How will schedules need to change?
- Timing/flexibility: Needed to meet certain requirements like completing IEPs and meeting professional development hours
- Materials: The need to secure high-quality instructional learning materials, especially for hybrid and online learning.
Health and Wellness
Key issues surfaced during working group discussion included:
- Increased trauma of students and adults
- Challenges with mask usage as it relates to discipline, and special needs populations
- Concerns about attendance and potential for absenteeism, while minimizing the spread of COVID-19
- Balancing the positive effects of school athletics with concerns about safety, equity, and access
Key issues surfaced during discussion include:
- Staffing: Schools will face the reality that educators and students will not feel comfortable returning to school
- Transportation: Social distancing requirements reduce bus capacity significantly, and the workforce is already understaffed and generally older.
- Regulatory flexibility and guidance: schools will need more flexibility for seat time, purchasing, hiring (expecting staff shortages), teacher roles, attendance, and assessments
- Adequate and flexible funding to cover additional expenses and maximize existing resources
- Technology: The need for universal broadband and support services for educators and families