Cape school board voted 5-2 Aug. 6 in favor of Superintendent Bob Fulton’s recommendation to begin the 2020-21 school year under a hybrid model and move the first day of school from Tuesday, Sept. 8 to Wednesday, Sept. 16, to provide additional staff training days.
“If this was something I didn't think we could pull off or do, I wouldn't recommend it,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is compromise safety for anyone involved.”
Under the hybrid model, families can choose either remote or in-person instruction; Fulton said families will be sent a commitment form Aug. 10 with information on both options from which to choose one.
If remote instruction is chosen, students must commit to remote instruction for the first marking period; they may be added to in-person instruction for the second marking period, space permitting.
If in-person instruction is chosen:
- Elementary students will attend school five days a week, space permitting
- Middle school students will attend two days per week, space permitting, on either Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday, with remote work on Wednesday
- High school students will attend two days per week, space permitting, on a semester block schedule, attending either Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday, with remote work on Wednesday.
President Alison Myers and members Jessica Tyndall, Janis Hanwell, Janet Maull-Martin and Julie Derrick voted for the hybrid model; Vice President Jason Bradley and Bill Collick voted against.
The vote came after nearly seven hours of sometimes emotional public comment from teachers, parents and physicians after the board passed a motion waiving its 15-minute limit on public comment.
Fulton said a survey of all staff showed that 31 percent wanted to start the school year in person, 29 percent wanted a hybrid model and 40 percent wanted instruction to be remote only.
Several teachers noted that the board has been meeting virtually while saying schools should open with in-person instruction. Other teachers said they were concerned parents will send their children to school even if they are sick.
One person said she retired in July because she could not stand the thought of bringing the disease home; another teacher said she was not ready to go to student funerals or bury her own children. Teachers questioned whether schools would have enough substitute teachers or adequate ventilation.
A pediatrician said her office staff has been completely COVID-19 free while seeing numerous children and parents every day. She said most people have not been secluded in their homes and that the virus isn't going away, and that she has seen an increase in mental health issues in children.
Another physician said COVID numbers have dropped tremendously in Sussex County while domestic violence and substance abuse cases have risen.
One father said many voices were being heard except those of the children; he said he feared children have suffered irreparable damage over the past five months. Another father said, “Remote learning is no learning,” and said they might as well just not have school if that is the only option.
The school reopening plan
School officials released the 25-page reopening plan on capehenlopenschools.com Aug. 7.
Fulton said recent local COVID-19 case data was very promising with low numbers of new cases in Cape district ZIP codes. He said he was confident that district reopening committees will have strong protocols in place for detection, notification, cleaning, training, protections and social distancing.
While state guidelines suggested students in kindergarten through third grade wear masks, Fulton said the district felt it was important that everyone wear face coverings except while eating and in the case of unique situations regarding students with special needs.
The plan states that the Division of Public Health has supplied the district with more than 8,000 masks, 800 face shields, 4,000 gowns, gloves and N-95 masks, and that the district is purchasing additional supplies. The plan includes cleaning schedules throughout the day with enhanced hygiene and disinfection protocols.
Every day before school, staff and families will be asked to complete a health assessment self-screening tool to help identify potential positive cases and help monitor the spread of the disease. Protocols will determine actions to be taken in case a student or staff member is found to be sick or potentially positive.
Everyone will have to observe three- to six-feet minimum distancing, with hallways and cafeterias clearly marked to enforce social distancing; volunteers and nonessential visitors will not be permitted to enter school buildings. There will be no field trips.
The plan details flexibility for grab-and-go meals to be served in the cafeteria, classrooms, pods and other areas.
Only 23 students will be allowed on a 72-passenger bus, and 14 students will be permitted on a 48-passenger bus, so officials are requesting parents drive their children to school, if possible. Face coverings will be required on buses at all times and will be made available to students who need them, Fulton said. Buses will be cleaned and disinfected daily and in between runs.