On Tuesday, March 2 the Delaware City Schools Board of Education met to discuss the proposed idea to switch to a five-day, full in-person learning structure for the remainder of the school year.
The majority of the board spoke in opposition of the change and no vote took place, keeping DCS operating in a hybrid model.
Days before the meeting took place, conversations began between parents, teachers and community members. Yet, a significant impact came from students voicing their concerns.
A survey sent out to Hayes students showed that over 63 percent of students did not want to switch to full in-person learning while 24 percent wanted to switch to full in-person. Some students voicing these opinions also participated in a panel discussion hosted by Talisman.
“I’m glad the Talisman sent that survey out because I think the student voice is important and I don’t think that was occurring prior to that,” Principal Ric Stranges said. “I think [student voice] had a lot to do with it; a lot.”
Parents were also surveyed, and their results contradicted the student voice. Almost 60 percent of parents said they wanted to switch to full in-person learning; roughly 32 percent said the system should stay as is, with the hybrid and online learning options.
“Being in school is the best for both of [my kids] to provide consistency; in-person instruction…it’s what is best for our children,” one parent said in the survey.
The main reasoning for the push from parents is the daily structure and easily accessible help that an in-person system provides.
The concern for students falling behind in learning is shared by most parents. However, many recognize the serious health risks regarding Covid-19 and say that while they want their children to be learning at a higher degree, they only support switching to full in-person if it can be done safely.
“I think kids could benefit in many ways by being in class again full time, but at Hayes where my daughter attends, the school is overcrowded when everyone is at school,” another parent said in the survey. “It’s hard to imagine that a school packed like sardines could be a safe place for kids.”
Many students share the same worries. Senior Makenna Kilton said in the panel discussion that there were already concerns about safety within the hybrid model.
“The things we have issues with already are only going to be compounded if we go back full-time,” Kilton said. “With just the physical sizes of our classrooms, having twice as many students in those classes is not possible and not safe.”
These concerns first came to mind after the school board asked Superintendent Heidi Kegley to look into the logistics of switching to full in-person in the February board meeting.
“When we got the word, we began thinking that we should look at those things not knowing what the outcome would be, but just to be prepared one way or another,” Stranges said.
How safety protocols and the following of them would change with full in-person is unclear.
According to the Delaware General Health District, guidelines for classroom operations recommend at least three feet of distance or ideally six feet distanced between students.
“Some of those older classrooms are small, and fitting 30 or so students in the space with even three feet of space would be impossible,” Stranges said.
With the pressure of surrounding districts making the switch, it was possible DCS would do the same, and Stranges said he was confident they would work with whatever the board decided.
Many parents shared the reasoning that since other districts like Buckeye Valley, Big Walnut and Olentangy are switching to full in-person learning, that DCS should be able to do the same. However, many students feel the decisions of other districts should not affect them.
“Don’t make decisions solely on what other districts are doing because they’re in totally different situations space wise and their communities may have different feelings,” Kilton said. “They should take into account what our best interests are for Delaware’s specific situation.”
In addition to focusing on opinions from the school district, students feel the opinions of students should have more weight. Junior Elijah Shireman would like to return to full in-person learning if it can be done safely, and for this decision he agrees the students and teachers should be heard.
“While parents’ opinions should be taken into account, I think students’ opinions should be more so because they are the ones actually there in the midst of the decision,” Shireman said in the panel discussion. “The decision affects the students more than it does the parents.”
Along with health concerns, many students foresee the transition to be overwhelming to students this late in the school year and its effect on mental health.
“It’s definitely been super mentally challenging and if we were to go back full time, my socialization would improve, but not fully my mental health because I would be so anxious and cautious,” senior Maddie Richardson said in the panel discussion. “I would be so worried about receiving [Covid-19] or passing it along.”
The stress associated with Covid would also be met with the stress of a change to students’ routines.
In the school board meeting, Student Representative Mackenzie Collett noted the work schedules and study systems students have gotten used to, and how it would be difficult to retrain these routines for the remainder of the year.
Many students shared a collective opinion on whether transitioning at this time is worth it.
“It doesn’t really seem realistic or really necessary at this point in the school year,” sophomore Marissa Thomas said in the panel discussion. “They said they want to go back after spring break and at that point we really don’t have much time left in the school year, so all the adjustments we would have to make would be unnecessary.”
The timing of the decision is another important factor.
“Had the numbers not spiked at Christmas time, I think semester break would’ve been the logical time to go full in, but it just wasn’t the logical time in our community to do that,” Stranges said. “Had we had numbers like we have now then, I think we would have.”
According to Stranges, staying in hybrid learning, given it has a lower number of cases, will give the district confidence in the safety to return to full in-person in the fall. This also gives more time to plan the safest experience for the next school year.
“We have to make a concerted effort in the fall and summer for some to reconnect with one another, provide opportunities to get to know one another again and come back stronger than we were,” Stranges said.
While most people in this decision can agree that being in school five-days a week as normal is preferred, the choice was difficult given Covid-19.
“I think we all want it to be normal,” Stranges said. “But we also want routine and sometimes something so different takes the place of normalcy.”
According to Stranges, DCS will continue to work to assist families’ needs and listen to concerns.
“We hope and pray that we see light at the end of the tunnel,” Stranges said. “As teachers are being vaccinated and students are next, a sense of normalcy is coming and I long for that to bring us back together as a Pacer family.”