Schools in the Diocese of Wilmington will continue with their current models of instruction at least through the beginning of the Christmas break, the Office for Catholic Schools said Dec. 3. The decision was made by the schools office in consultation with Msgr. Steven Hurley, the vicar general and moderator of the curia for the diocese.
Superintendent of schools Louis De Angelo told pastors and school administrators that he met virtually with Gov. John Carney and representatives from the Division of Public Health on Dec. 3, “and it is clear that students present in schools either fully in-person or in a hybrid model is preferred to students in virtual learning.”
Schools in the Diocese of Wilmington have been either in-person or hybrid since the beginning of the school year. Those schools with fewer than 250 students had the option of bringing all students to the school every day, while those above that threshold were able to go with a hybrid model. Holy Cross School in Dover, which is above 250 children, is able to be all in-person because the students are in three separate buildings.
Individual parish and diocesan schools are not allowed to go to fully virtual learning the week of Dec. 14, De Angelo wrote. De Angelo said the current COVID-19 plans have been successful, and there is no reason to change it for the next two weeks.
“As the governor said yesterday, schools are the safest place for kids right now, both from a health perspective and an educational perspective. It’s the right place for kids to be,” he said in an interview Dec. 4. “Our schools have been very successful in being COVID-compliant. Our teachers, our administrators have worked diligently to ensure that students are safe, and staff is safe. We’re going to continue just as we have been through the Christmas break.”
Private Catholic schools — including Archmere Academy, Ursuline Academy, Salesianum School and St. Edmond’s Academy — are not required to follow the diocesan directive.
Pastors and school administrators will learn by Dec. 11 what the diocese has decided for the first week after the Christmas break.
Carney announced on Dec. 3 new restrictions related to increasing diagnoses of COVID-19 in the state and related hospitalizations. He and officials from the Division of Public Health are “strongly advising” all Delawareans to avoid indoor gatherings with anyone outside the household, and it includes a mandatory mask mandate anytime one is indoors with another person who does not live with him or her. These new measures are in effect from Dec. 14-Jan. 11.
The governor also recommended that schools pause in-person learning beginning Dec. 14, going fully virtual through Jan. 8, although he added that the state would support any district that chose to continue with hybrid instruction.
“Schools that do not face significant operational challenges may remain in hybrid learning, with a mix of remote and in-person instruction,” the state said.
Winter sports competitions are prohibited until Jan. 11, but teams may practice under masking and social-distancing guidelines. The Office for Catholic Youth Ministry has already decided that basketball will not begin until Jan. 2, when practices will be allowed under the state’s new restrictions.
“I know we’re all tired of COVID-19, but it’s not tired of us,” Carney said in a statement. “We’re pleading with Delawareans to do the right thing. Wear a mask. It’s a simple sacrifice to protect others, and to make sure that Delaware’s children get an education.”
Schools have proven to be safe environments, he continued. According to the state, fewer than 1 percent of the approximately 60,000 students and staff in Delaware’s schools have tested positive. The numbers in the Diocese of Wilmington have been similar, De Angelo said.
“We really haven’t had any problems, even with our youngest students,” he said. “And we’re masked all day long. The only time they’re not masked is when they’re eating, and they’re distanced while they’re eating.”
No schools in the diocese have been forced to close because of a COVID-19 outbreak, De Angelo said, although individual classes have quarantined at the direction of public health officials in Delaware and Maryland. A few schools decided to use virtual learning the Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, the only two days that week that schools were in session.
De Angelo knows the restrictions are wearing on everyone, but he had some encouraging words. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel. It’s just a very long tunnel.”