Cape officials are trying to get as many students as possible attending in person, but state spacing requirements don’t permit full capacity, district leaders said at the March 25 school board meeting.
In January, Supervisor of Elementary Instruction Amanda Archambault said 268 students were on the elementary school waitlist. By April 12, she said, she expects the number to be down to 206. The middle and high schools do not currently have a waiting list, she said.
“Believe it or not, we still have children registering every day, so as we chip down on the waitlist, we also have new enrollments happening,” Archambault said.
Superintendent Bob Fulton said students come off the waitlist when they move from remote to in-person instruction, but new students are still enrolling, so they get added to the bottom of the waitlist.
Enrollment has steadily increased since the Nov. 13 unit count of 5,892 students, Assistant Superintendent Jenny Nauman said. As of March 26, the district has 6,045 students, she said, and in the elementary schools, in-person numbers have increased by 212 students.
Since September, the district has followed three-foot spacing guidelines allowed by the state, which permitted spacing from three to six feet apart, Fulton said. Many other schools started at six-feet spacing and are now able to move to three feet and allow more in-person students, he said.
“Please know that if the state told us today that we could go two feet, we’d go two feet tomorrow,” Fulton said, estimating that two or three students per classroom could be added and the waitlist depleted if state restrictions were lowered.
Board President Alison Myers said district officials are advocating with state officials to lower restrictions and get more students in the building.
“I speak for everybody up here, as Mr. Fulton said; the minute we are allowed to do more, we will without a doubt, because it is what's best for kids,” Myers said. “You’re looking at a table full of advocates here and we are ready to move forward whenever we are allowed to do so.”
Although the time for public comment had passed, Myers said she noticed several parents in the audience and offered them the chance to speak or ask any questions.
When a parent asked if the board could use assistance pressuring the state to relax guidelines, board members nodded emphatically; member Jessica Tyndall announced Gov. Carney’s email address several times. Carney can be contacted at governor.delaware.gov/email-governor-carney.
“The moment things change, right away we’re going to get kids in school as soon as possible,” Fulton said. “We’re not going to wait around till next year. If things change this spring with social distancing, we want to get every kid who wants to get in school right away.”
Another parent said remote learning was taking a toll on her daughter, and another parent said her child was missing out on art, music and physical education; she said she didn’t want remote students to be perceived as behind their peers.
One parent questioned why livestreaming wasn’t consistently done across the district so that remote students could engage for synchronous learning. The district has invested in technology, so simply turn on the Zoom screen, he suggested.
Livestreaming was voluntary, Nauman said, but is now catching speed as teachers become more accustomed to technology. She said she agreed that may be the way to go in every classroom. Fulton said the number of teachers who are livestreaming is growing, and others need training, but so far, it has not been mandated.
Board member Janet Maull-Martin said the board will have more discussions about livestreaming, because that is reimagining education.
Supervisor of Secondary Instruction Mike Young said officials are constantly reviewing classrooms to look for ways to fit even one more desk. He said there are many unknowns regarding the next school year, but the district will use the most up-to-date guidance.
“Of course the dream is that we can say we’ll just reopen business as usual, so I keep dreaming that every night,” Young said. “Let's hope that happens. It's the only way I can fall asleep.”
The goal next year is to have every student attending school in person who wants to be, Fulton said. Next year, for the elementary level in particular, it will be a reset, clean slate, he said, and all students will have the same number of in-person days.
Tyndall said everyone wants their kids in school five days a week, because that's what's best for kids.
“Unfortunately, it can’t happen until John Carney lifts these social distancing restrictions,” she said.