School districts’ indecision leaves Delaware parents in limbo

Gov. John Carney won’t let public schools open fully while Delaware still has moderate community spread of the coronavirus.

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Gerry Hendrix still doesn't know if her first-grader Fiona will have any in-class learning. (Courtesy of Gerry Hendrix)

Gerry Hendrix still doesn't know if her first-grader Fiona will have any in-class learning. (Courtesy of Gerry Hendrix)

Heather Deschambeau and her son Ethan have a momentous decision to make.

They must decide whether to commit to hybrid or remote learning through February of his junior year at Brandywine High, north of Wilmington.

Deschambeau has been working the phones and social media to get information about the options. She must submit their choice while the Brandywine district — one of 19 in Delaware — mulls how it will educate its 10,500 students this year. Brandywine is the state’s fifth largest district.

Heather Deschambeau and her son Ethan can’t decide whether they want hybrid or remote-only learning for his junior year at Brandywine High. (Courtesy of Heather Deschambeau)

“I did get an answer that the remote learning will be real time virtual and they will be required to log in at a specific time for a specific class and attendance will be taken,’’ she told WHYY News. “They can’t give us more specifics of what hybrid is going to look like until they know how many kids want to come in and if they can accommodate them.”

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Her son is also on the fence. “I keep telling him your physical and mental health are the top priority,’’ Deschambeau said.

The Deschambeau family’s uncertainty is a familiar feeling for many of the 141,000 Delaware public school children and parents as they await word from their districts or charter schools about their plans.

Gov. John Carney announced last week that schools can’t open for full in-class instruction but could do a mix of in-class and online, or online only, because the state still has moderate community spread of the coronavirus.

But as of Wednesday morning, only a few districts have made public their plans, though almost all have already pushed back the scheduled Sept. 1 start date.

Red Clay Consolidated, the state’s largest district with 17,100 pupils, will go remote for the first six weeks. So will Appoquinimink, the third largest with 11,700 students.

Colonial, the sixth largest with 9,900 kids, will go hybrid for grades K-8 but its only high school, William Penn near New Castle, will be remote only. Brandywine and many others say they will make the call next week.

The other two upstate districts haven’t decided. They are Christiana, the second largest with 14,000 students, and New Castle County Vocational-Technical, No. 10 with 4,700 kids.

Another district that hasn’t decided is Indian River in southern Sussex County. It’s the state’s fourth largest with 10,900 children.

That is problematic for parent Gerry Hendrix, whose daughter Fiona is starting first grade in the Indian River district. Her first day is already delayed until September 17 but the mode of learning remains up in the air.

So Hendrix, an information technology professional, still doesn’t know whether her child will be in class at all. Nor does the single mother know how many days of the week she or her ex-husband will have to find someone to monitor Fiona’s online learning sessions.

Gerry Hendrix, with daughter Fiona, is waiting for the Indian River School District’s decision. (Courtesy of Gerry Hendrix)

“My child needs the interaction of a school and plus I work a very stressful job, and I don’t have time to give her, to do the work or home activity that she was given as a kindergartner,’’ Hendrix said. “But I can assure you I am not the person that should be hired to be her home school teacher.”

District leaders say they are sensitive to the needs of students and their families, but also must protect kids, teachers and other staff and meet state safety requirements for face coverings, social distancing, sanitizing, transportation and testing should they go with hybrid learning.

Typical of the administrators’ sentiments was a notification by Brandywine superintendent Lincoln Hohler to district families.

Hohler wrote that parents like Deschambeau are being surveyed so Brandywine can make the best choice at a time when none are optimal.

“We hear you and see your frustration, fear, and weariness,’’ Hohler wrote. “We know you are worried about your children’s education, their physical and mental health, perhaps your job, older family members, and the unanticipated hurdles that life throws our way. We are worried about all of those things too. That is why we are taking such a measured, comprehensive, thoughtful approach to all of the obstacles COVID-19 continues to present. We are not, as some are quick to judge, deceitful or inept, nor do we have any hidden agendas. We have taken and will faithfully continue to take the necessary steps to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of students, families, and staff to the best of our ability because your children are our children.”

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