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Carney, Bunting announce working groups to plan safe return to schools

Delaware News Desk
Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times

Gov. John Carney and Secretary of Education Susan Bunting announced May 18 a public strategy to plan for the safe reopening of Delaware school buildings.

Three COVID-19 School Reopening Working Groups will advise the Delaware Department of Education, Delaware school districts and charter schools on ways to safely and effectively reopen Delaware school buildings.

In April, Carney closed Delaware public school buildings for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year due to the threat of COVID-19.

The working groups will focus on Health and Wellness, with co-chairs Mike Rodriguez, associate secretary, Delaware Department of Education, and Meghan Walls, pediatric psychologist, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children; Academics and Equity, with co-chairs Monica Gant, associate secretary, Delaware Department of Education, and Ashley Giska, assistant superintendent, Laurel School District; and Operations and Services, with co-chair Chuck Longfellow, associate secretary, Delaware Department of Education and Oliver Gumbs, director of business operations, Cape Henlopen School District.

“These working groups will provide important recommendations to Secretary Bunting and school and district leaders on how to safely return to school,” said Carney. “I am pleased with the expertise these members bring to this important effort and look forward to their guidance on the key issues that Delaware’s superintendents and charter school leaders must consider before re-opening their buildings.”

A full list of working group members is available at bit.ly/2Xs1yqg.

“We’re asking each working group to help the department develop a framework of essential actions that school district and charter school leaders should take to effectuate a safe return to school,” said Bunting. “These working groups also will help us reach out to our communities so that the ideas and concerns of Delawareans ground our work. These meetings will be open to the public, and I encourage participation across our state.”

“Preparing for the next school year under these extremely difficult times is going to require a multifaceted approach,” said House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, a member of the Health and Wellness working group. “It’s not enough to plan for the logistics of how the schools will physically operate and how to ensure all students receive the quality education they deserve. We also have to prepare to address the mental health challenges that many of our children will face. This has been a stressful time for everyone, and children are no different. If we want this unique upcoming school year to be successful, we have to address students’ mental health and wellness.”

“It is imperative that we protect the safety, health, and wellbeing of students and staff when we reopen our schools,” said Stephanie Ingram, president of the Delaware State Education Association. “Our primary goal is to meet the educational, social and emotional needs of all students. These state work groups will give educators a voice in the decision-making process while making sure their thoughts and concerns are heard. This is all about safety. We do not want to rush into a decision that puts anyone in harm’s way.”

“As we work to transition from remote learning back into our school buildings, supporting the health and wellness of our students and staff members is imperative,” said Mike Rodriguez, associate secretary of student support at the Delaware Department of Education. “I’m excited to work with these leaders from across our state to recommend what programming, supports and protections are needed.”

The working groups, which include student representation and members of the General Assembly, will make final recommendations to DOE in July. The working groups will continue to meet through September, or an alternate time period as set by Bunting. DOE will provide staffing support to the working groups.