Schools in the Diocese of Wilmington fared well during the initial six weeks of the academic year while implementing protocols designed to protect students, faculty and staff from the coronavirus. Beginning on Oct. 19, they will take the next step toward a more normal educational experience.
Superintendent of schools Louis De Angelo said all 19 parish and diocesan schools were surveyed about a number of topics. Among the questions for the six elementary schools that opened the year with a hybrid model was whether they would be comfortable bringing another grade back into their buildings full-time. Four of the six are going to welcome second-graders back beginning Oct. 19.
As of Oct. 15, there had been 28 COVID-19 diagnoses in the schools, 25 students and three faculty or staff. De Angelo said none of the transmissions were traced to school buildings or events. A letter is sent home once a month explaining where the schools are with respect to coronavirus, including the number of cases and the positivity rate out of more than 6,000 students and approximately 700 faculty and staff.
De Angelo said the diocese is pleased with the numbers.
“The reason it’s good is we put restrictions in place, and we’re following those restrictions. We’re not in a position now to remove all restrictions, that’s for sure,” he said.
The current phase will last until Thanksgiving, at which time the situation will be reevaluated. Six weeks, he explained, is not a lot of time to gather data. The diocese is confident in how it has proceeded, but it needs more information before opening the larger schools on a full-time basis. Mandates or other actions by the states of Delaware or Maryland also could affect plans in the future.
One of the factors that school leaders will keep an eye on is the weather as it begins to cool off. Many students are outside for classes, lunch and recess, but as the temperatures drop, they will be spending more time inside.
De Angelo said that in talking to parents since the beginning of the school year, he has learned that some families are more comfortable keeping their students at home. More, however, are returning, either on a full-time or hybrid basis.
“Additional kids wanted to be in school, and I guess the parents felt confident that the plan was successful, so they felt good about sending their kids back, which is a good sign,” he said.
“The kids are getting what they need to get, either in person or remote.”
Parents who have contacted the schools office have come in on both sides of the debate, De Angelo said. Some appreciate the caution from the diocese, while others would like to see more students back in the buildings on a more frequent basis.
“I get it. I understand what they’re saying. But again, we’d rather move cautiously and carefully than let too many kids in and then have to pull back,” he said. “We’ll check again at Thanksgiving and see.”