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School and Delaware

by Peggy Mika

As we approach the first anniversary of school closures in Delaware (March 18), it may be a good time to reflect on facts about kids and schools.

Delaware public schools serve 129,006 students in 39 school districts. On Feb. 16, in a weekly COVID update, the state reported about 65,000 public school children and 10,000 private school students are now learning in classrooms at least part of the week. Delaware Catholic schools (which includes some schools in Maryland) were open throughout the fall serving 6,027 students in 19 schools. 

Last spring, at the close of the 2019/2020 school year, the state surveyed parents, students and teachers and published a study in July 2020 called “Remote Learning Experiences in Delaware; COVID-19 Insights from the Delaware School Reopening Survey.” Here are some key points from the study. 

  • Only 16% of teachers felt like their students would be prepared for the next school year, while 53% somewhat agreed, and 31% did not agree at all; 57% of the teachers requested the flexibility to focus on standards from the students’ previous grade in the fall of 2020.  
  • At the time of the survey, while teachers and children reported feeling “kind”, “hopeful” and “love,” teachers also reported feeling stressed (39%), frustrated (35%), overwhelmed (34%) and worried (31%).

In February, Stephanie Ingram, president of the Delaware State Education Association, was quoted in news reports saying educators are distrustful of that idea that schools are a safe place because you “can’t keep COVID outside.”  

However, a growing number of experts from UNICEF, to the CDC and large groups of medical experts agree that teachers and students can be safe at school even if educators are not vaccinated. 

In December Robert Jenkins, UNICEF Global Chief of Education, said, “Evidence shows that schools are not the main drivers of this pandemic” adding that “children are continuing to suffer the devastating impacts on their learning, mental and physical well-being and safety.” 

In early February, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said, “There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen … vaccinations of teachers is not a prerequisite for safely reopening schools.”

What are the problems with remote learning? 

According to NCB news, “preliminary data points to alarming signs that kids are in trouble:”

  • Mental health issues: Emergency room mental health-related visits are up 24% year-over-year for children ages 5 to 11 and up 31% among older kids.
  • Hunger: Food banks estimate 17 million children — 6 million more than pre-COVID years — are in danger of not having enough to eat because they don’t have access to meals at school. 
  • Kids are not learning. The average student in grades 3-8 who took a math assessment this fall scored 5 to 10 percentile points behind students who took the same test last year, with black, Hispanic and poor students falling even further behind
  • Absence: An estimated 3 million vulnerable students (homeless, in foster care, have disabilities or learning English) are not attending school at all; among other children absences are up. Experts say that missing months of school lowers a child’s chances of graduating from high school which can have life-long consequences.  

What needs to be done to make sure schools are safe? 

There is general agreement that schools can reopen safely by following these steps. 

  • Everyone wears a mask.
  • Group students into cohorts. In Europe and some Catholic schools, students and teachers are placed in cohorts that start at unique times, pass in the halls at staggered times and spend the entire day together.
  • Proper ventilation.
  • Regular testing to spot cases, prevent outbreaks and make contact tracing easier. 

Do schools need more money?

The CDC estimates it would cost $2.8 billion to $22.5 billion to implement its mitigation strategies to reopen schools for 51 million K-12 public school students. The federal government has more than two-times that amount of money set aside for distribution to schools from COVID-relief packages passed by Congress in March and December 2020. 

So, if schools are safe, kids who are not in school are suffering, private schools are open and money for assistance is available, what are we waiting for? Delaware public schools should be open NOW.

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