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Delaware officials eye mix of remote, in-person classes

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Public schools in Delaware will likely reopen with a mix of remote and in-person classes, although each school district will make its own decision on how to begin the academic year, Gov. John Carney said Tuesday.

State officials are offering guidance to school districts and charter schools based on trends in the number of new COVID-19 cases, average daily hospitalizations and the percentage of people testing positive. Those criteria are used to define “green light, yellow light, red light” scenarios based on minimal spread of the virus, minimal-to-moderate spread, and significant spread.

A green scenario would allow for in-person instruction, while yellow would call for a hybrid model of remote learning and in-person classes. Under the red scenario, school buildings would be closed and instruction would be by remote learning only.

“Help us get to green,” Carney said, encouraging Delawareans to wear masks in public and to get tested.

Carney said a final determination on guidance for school districts will be made next week.

“Clearly, all the data suggests that we are in yellow right now, we’ve been in yellow for sometime,” he said. “And if I had to predict, we’d be in yellow a week from now.”

Carney said state officials have had “considerable interaction” with school districts. He indicated they are making preparations with the expectation of opening under the yellow scenario.

“We will set this criteria. We will provide the guidance. ... The districts themselves will make that final decision,” he said.

At the same time, Carney made it clear that his administration believes elementary school students should be taught in person if at all possible. Carney has long stressed the importance of trying to make sure that third-graders can read at grade level in order to help increase the chance of academic progress in later years.

“My own view, and the recommendation through the Department of Education, is that we really lean into the elementary school children as we look to bring children back to some in-person instruction,” he said.

The state teachers union, which holds considerable influence over Delaware lawmakers, has called for the school year to begin with remote learning for at least the first six weeks. Democratic leaders in the General Assembly have publicly backed the Delaware State Education Association’s position.

“While we all would like to seek a return to ‘normal’ as quickly as possible — parents loading their children onto buses and sending them to school, then heading to work — that has to take a backseat to what the health experts, educational leaders, and our own observations tell us,” House Democratic leaders said in a statement issued last week. “We need to listen to our frontline educators and take their concerns seriously.”

Meanwhile, administration officials said they plan to increase enforcement efforts to ensure that businesses are abiding by coronavirus guidelines such as requiring staff and customers to wear masks and practice social distancing,

Jamie Mack, chief of health systems protection, said officials have received about 1,000 complaints this month and conducted more than 300 onsite compliance checks. He said the state plans to increase its enforcement presence in August.

“We haven’t had to get too aggressive yet,” Mack said.

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