The Office for Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Wilmington has announced its plans to re-open its buildings for at least the beginning of the upcoming academic year. According to the plan, entitled “Forward in Faith,” instruction in its elementary and high schools will be either in-person or a hybrid that includes remote learning depending on the size of the school and the age of the students.
Louis De Angelo, the superintendent of schools, informed parents and schools in a letter July 31 of the diocese’s intentions. Pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade will all be held in person daily. In schools with a total enrollment of fewer than 250 students, instruction can be either in person or a combination of that and remote learning for grades 2-12. Schools that exceed that enrollment will have a hybrid model. This will be reevaluated after six weeks.
“Health and safety, along with faith formation, academic success, and social-emotional balance, have been priorities in the creation of ‘Forward in Faith’ and we believe that this method of opening school will meet these goals,” reads the letter sent to parents. Specific details will be communicated to parents by their individual schools by Aug. 7.
The school buildings have been closed since mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic sent the schools to remote learning, wiped out spring sports and other extracurricular activities, and led to some creative graduation ceremonies.
In an interview, De Angelo said each school using a hybrid model will develop its own. A school with two tracks in each grade might have one teacher in the classroom and the other working with students remotely, for example.
“We gave out guidelines, but we’re counting on the schools to take those guidelines and develop their own plan,” he said.
With masking and distancing, the diocese is confident it can bring students, faculty and staff back to schools safely, he said. The success of this approach requires parents to be partners, he continued. They will be required to take their children’s temperatures each morning and make sure those in third grade and above have a mask.
“Parents are the first teachers of their kids, and they need to set the example,” he said.
Temperatures will not be taken at school, De Angelo said, because Delaware law requires that a nurse perform that duty.
The Office for Catholic Schools heard from parents throughout the summer regarding the reopening of schools, and despite differences of opinions, one thing was clear.
“I think what both sides wanted was that whatever happened would be safe. And I think that’s what the plan does. It provides a safe way of reopening schools,” De Angelo said.
Kathy Manns, the principal at Most Blessed Sacrament School in Berlin, Md., said the school is prepared for in-person learning. Classrooms have been measured to ensure proper distancing among students, and other safety measures will be in place.
These scenarios will be in effect until Monday, Oct. 14. They will be studied to see if they are effective in maintaining health and safety while providing for quality Catholic education, the schools office said. Any changes will be communicated at the beginning of October.
“Forward in Faith” also addresses non-classroom situations. After-school care is possible, De Angelo said, but it may look a bit different.
“They have to cohort students by grade level,” he said. “Rather than just have maybe 40 kids all together, you might put the youngest kids together, the middle school kids together so you can reduce the size of the group.”
For high school athletics, diocesan schools will follow the regulations set forth by the state athletic associations of Delaware and Maryland. The Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association will meet Aug. 13 to decide on a path forward, subject to approval by the state board of education. Maryland is scheduled to begin practice for fall sports on Aug. 12, but an update is expected on Aug. 4.
De Angelo said a task force comprised of clergy, diocesan leadership, Catholic school board members, teachers, medical personnel, parents and community members worked this summer to come up with “Forward in Faith.”
In the letter addressing educators, De Angelo acknowledged the challenges in reopening schools, “but we are confident in your ability to do what’s right and reasonable, to remain positive, to be a problem-solver, and, most especially, to adhere to health and safety protocols. Be assured of our prayers and gratitude each day.”
Private Catholic schools are not bound by the diocese’s plan, and some have announced their intentions for the upcoming year. Archmere will supplement in-person instruction with “asynchronous lessons,” principal Katie Eissler Thiel wrote earlier this month. Ursuline will open a week earlier than most schools, on Aug. 24, while St. Edmond’s Academy is set to use its large campus to accommodate students. Salesianum has yet to announce its plans.