Returning to School FAQs
- What is the decision regarding school reopening?
- Can a school open in a different scenario?
- Can parents and students opt out of physically going into the school?
- Is it possible that there will be regional variability?
- What is the process for moving between scenarios?
- What does a hybrid scenario mean?
- What are the child care options for families if their district, charter or private/parochial school is doing remote learning, and their children do not have a place to go during the day?
- What funding is there to help district, charter and private/parochial schools?
- Where do I direct questions about my district, charter or private/parochial school's plans?
- What happens if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 during the school year?
- How will schools meet the behavioral/mental health needs of students, families, and staff?
- How will the state support district, charter and private/parochial schools to meet the health and safety guidance?
- Will COVID-19 testing be made available to staff and students?
- How should schools prepare to respond to positive COVID cases?
- How should the school expect to find out that a student or staff member has tested positive for COVID-19?
- What happens once DPH learns that a student, teacher, bus driver or other school staff member tests positive for COVID?
- What is the testing protocol for close contacts of positive cases?
- Are parents notified about a positive test in the school?
- Are there special cleaning protocols schools must follow after a positive case?
- Will educators have to use sick leave if they must quarantine/self-isolate due to COVID-19?
Reopening School Buildings
What is the decision regarding school reopening?
Public health data indicates Delaware schools may reopen in Scenario 2. Scenario 2 is a hybrid model of both in-person and remote learning. There are a variety of hybrid models and therefore models will look different in each district, charter and private/parochial school. For example, hybrid models may include in-person instruction and/or remote learning by age group (i.e. elementary in-person, secondary remote), students attending on alternating day(s), or in-person or remote attendance focused on specific student needs. All schools are expected to offer families a fully remote option.
Can a school open in a different scenario?
A district, charter or private/parochial school may not operate in a scenario that is less restrictive than the state's recommended scenario, which is based on public health guidance. A district, charter or private/parochial school may choose to open in a more restrictive scenario if they cannot meet the required health guidelines. For example, based on present data, the state has determined that conditions dictate Scenario 2, which is a hybrid model. A district, charter or private/parochial school could open in Scenario 3, which is full remote learning, but could not open in Scenario 1. That said, districts, charters and private/parochial schools are encouraged to offer some amount of in-person instruction, particularly for students who may have difficulty in a fully remote environment or setting.
Can parents and students opt out of physically going into the school?
When districts, charters and private/parochial schools create their hybrid plans, they will include an option for families who choose to keep their children home for health and safety reasons. A student will not be forced to attend in-person school if he or she has a health condition or does not feel safe, and parents/caregivers will have the ability to opt for remote learning for their child.
Is it possible that there will be regional variability?
Yes, but such variability is not recommended at this time. Regional variability will be considered when conditions change. It is possible that a district, charter or private/parochial school may have to revert to remote learning if an outbreak in a certain area of the state occurs. Regional data variability may dictate that certain counties or districts/charters operate under different criteria.
What is the process for moving between scenarios?
The three scenarios are determined by public health data. The Division of Public Health (DPH) will review the data weekly to anticipate trends and give schools as much time as possible to adapt to changing conditions. Schools won't have to react on a weekly basis. If a steady trend occurs in a positive direction, or data trends in a negative direction, the state will consider changing the statewide scenario. The state will work collaboratively with districts, charters and private/parochial schools so they are prepared for any change.
What does a hybrid scenario mean?
As indicated above, hybrid scenarios may look different across the state. Just a few of the examples of hybrid learning include:
- In-person instruction and/or remote learning by age group (i.e. elementary in-person, secondary remote), but as discussed above, all schools should offer families a fully remote option.
- Students attending on alternating day(s).
- In-person or remote attendance focused on specific student needs (bringing in students with special needs, low-income students, English learners, students experiencing homelessness).
What are the child care options for families if their district, charter or private/parochial school is doing remote learning, and their children do not have a place to go during the day?
districts, charters and private/parochial schools should work with local child care facilities, non-profits, and other existing programs to try to ensure a place for any child who needs it. DDOE will provide each superintendent and charter leader with a list of such facilities in their geographic area and help make needed connections as well.
What funding is there to help districts and charters?
Districts and charters received $39.1 million from the federal CARES Act to deal with COVID-related challenges. Additionally, the state used its share of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Funds ($7.9 million) and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds ($4.3 million) to support K-12 schools through flexible funding, mental health support, reading support, connectivity, and trainings. As of the time of this publication, Congress is working on an additional relief package, which may include more funding for schools. Districts and charters may choose to rethink their Opportunity Funding provided by the state to better support low-income students and English learners during this unprecedented time.
Where do I direct questions about my district, charter or private/parochial school's plans?
District superintendents, charter school leaders, and other schoolleaders and their teams are working through their plans, which once finished, will be on file with the district, charter or private/parochial school. Many districts, charters and private/parochial schools have working groups that include educators, parents, and community members. Local school boards and charter boards should also be engaged in this process. Districts, charters and private/parochial schools should be contacted directly. Beyond that, the DDOE is always ready and willing to assist.
Health and Safety
What happens if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 during the school year?
This answer outlines the process for responding to positive COVID-19 tests. Facial coverings, hand washing, social distancing, and regular cleaning are the best way to prevent positive cases and the spread of the disease.
How will schools meet the behavioral/mental health needs of students, families, and staff?
Students, families, and staff benefit from behavioral/mental health services provided by schools. Behavioral/mental health staff, wellness centers, and outside organizations play a vital role in this support. Whether remote or in-person, schools will work with students, families, and staff to provide access to critical behavioral/mental health services. Regardless of the scenario, schools should make behavioral/mental health staff, wellness centers, and outside organization support available to help meet the needs of students, staff, and families.
How will the state support districts, charters and private/parochial schools to meet the health and safety guidance?
Each district, charter and private/parochial school has an assigned DPH liaison who is available to support it in meeting the state's guidance. These relationships will help schools meet the necessary guidelines to keep staff and students safe. These DPH liaisons will play an informational and support role, not an enforcement role. If someone is concerned about a school not following guidance, these concerns should be addressed immediately with either the school or district. Reports can also be made to the DPH enforcement email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Will COVID-19 testing be made available to staff and students?
Yes. The state will provide an at home test option to each school so all staff can get tested prior to returning to school. Staff will register, and a test will be mailed to the home address. After the test has been taken, it should be returned in the pre-paid package. Once school starts, the state will provide testing for staff once per month. In the two weeks prior to schools returning in person, the state will be setting up a series of community testing sites in school parking lots around the state specifically geared towards student testing. Parents/guardians are encouraged to bring their children to get tested. The Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) will work with the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA) for schools with a high percentage of families who have transportation challenges to locate testing sites to allow for more accessibility for students. Community testing sites will continue to be available throughout the school year for parents who wish to have their children tested on a regular basis. The state will also facilitate testing for any staff or student who may have been exposed to COVID-19.
The state also continues to provide free testing throughout the state, including drive through testing. More information on this testing can be found on the Delaware Coronavirus site.
How should schools prepare to respond to positive COVID cases?
In developing their plans, school districts, charters and private/parochial schools will identify school and district level leads. The school nurse should serve as the school level lead, and a district office administrator or charter leader should serve as the COVID coordinator for the district, charter or private/parochial school. The school nurse will work with an epidemiologist from DPH to support case investigation and contact tracing, which includes assessing each unique situation and determining if other students or staff should be quarantined or tested. The school nurse should always be in close contact with the COVID coordinator.
If a positive case occurs, the following process should be followed:
- The school nurse will contact the Office of Infectious Disease Epidemiology within the Division of Public Health (DPH) at 1-888-295-5156 and report the case. If DPH learns of the school-related positive case first, DPH will contact the school nurse.
- DPH would then assign an epidemiologist to perform the investigation.
- The school nurse should keep the district-, charter- or private/parochial school-level COVID coordinator in the loop for consistency of communication and messaging.
How should the school expect to find out that a student or staff member has tested positive for COVID-19?
Schools will trigger a priority response from DPH to the school, and DPH will contact the school nurse within 24 hours of receiving notification of a positive result. DPH will identify the COVID-positive staff member or student and work with the school nurse and the positive individual to identify any close contacts that need to be quarantined. The school nurse may only disclose the name of the positive individual for the purposes of assisting with contact tracing. For instance, if a young student tests positive, he or she may need a teacher’s assistance in identifying close contacts. In addition, schools should also request that parents and staff contact the school if they learn they are positive since this can expedite the implementation of appropriate infectious control actions. If the school learns of the case before hearing from DPH, it should contact the Office of Infectious Disease Epidemiology within DPH at 1-888-295-5156.
What happens once DPH learns that a student, teacher, bus driver or other school staff member tests positive for COVID?
Positive cases related to a school setting are considered high-priority cases for DPH, and if they are identified through initial case investigation or contact tracing, a DPH epidemiologist will begin a detailed investigation. Likewise, if the school notifies DPH of a positive case, DPH will assign a DPH epidemiologist to the case. The person who tested positive will be instructed to self-isolate for a time period that depends on when he/she developed symptoms or had the test done. A person who tests positive will be instructed to stay in touch with DPH. DPH will issue an email to the individual (or a parent/guardian for a student) when the individual is cleared to return to school. Schools should require individuals to share this documentation with the school nurse before allowing someone who tested positive to return to school.
Only close contacts of the person who tested positive will be required to quarantine. For example:
- If a teacher tests positive but has consistently worn a mask and was not closer than 6 feet for more than 15 consecutive minutes to any of his or her students, then the students do not need to quarantine.
- If a student tests positive and sat at a desk less than six feet apart from another student for more than 15 minutes and did not wear a mask, the student next to the positive case does need to quarantine.
- If a student who tested positive sat three feet apart from another student for more than 15 minutes but was wearing a mask the whole time, the student next to the positive case would not need to quarantine.
- We understand that there will be scenarios where, due to the nature of school activities, staff may be uncertain about whether these protocols were followed. The school nurse and COVID coordinator should always work with the assigned DPH epidemiologist, who will help the school make a determination on whether quarantine is necessary based on available information.
Also, close contacts of close contacts may not need to quarantine. For instance, a sibling in the household of a positive case should be considered a close contact and should quarantine and be tested. Close contacts of the sibling (e.g., other students in the same classroom as the sibling) do not need to quarantine unless the sibling’s results come back positive, but they should self-monitor for symptoms.
A DPH epidemiologist will assist a school in running through the above scenarios. In summary, it is unlikely that an entire class will need to quarantine, or an entire school would shut down in the event of a positive case, unless social distancing and mask requirements are not adhered to.
What is the testing protocol for close contacts of positive cases?
The DPH epidemiologist will advise close contacts if and when they should be tested due to potential exposure. DPH will make testing available for teachers and students who may have been exposed. All Delawareans are encouraged to get tested at community testing sites, whether or not they’re symptomatic or have been exposed to the virus. If there is evidence of potential widespread transmission of the disease at the school (e.g., two or more cases from different households potentially transmitted at the school), DPH will work with the school to perform widespread testing for the school community. This decision should be based on findings from an investigation by DPH and informed by current levels of community infection.
Are parents notified about a positive test in the school?
The school nurse, COVID coordinator, and possibly the school leader will coordinate with the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) and DPH to notify families of the presence of any positive COVID-19 cases in the classroom and/or school to raise awareness and encourage closer observation for any symptoms at home. Previously established processes for communication to stakeholders regarding other contagious diseases that impact schools should be followed, including protecting the identity of those who test positive.
Are there special cleaning protocols schools must follow after a positive case?
If a positive case is connected to an individual office or other space that can be left vacant for up to 24 hours, this is best and will allow the viral load to reduce before cleaning and disinfection take place. If the positive case is associated with a classroom or other essential space, regular disinfection and cleaning should take place before the next school day. If enhanced cleaning has been taking place, then those procedures should be continued, and additional or specific cleaning should not be necessary. Enhanced cleaning will reduce risk and should be continued. Commonly touched surfaces (door knobs, railings, etc.) should be cleaned every 15 minutes to 2 hours. It is vital that an EPA-approved disinfectant, or prepared bleach solution, be used to ensure effectiveness against COVID-19. CDC and EPA have guidance for cleaning and disinfecting schools and a simple decision tool for assistance.
Will educators have to use sick leave if they must quarantine/self-isolate due to COVID-19?
The state is in the process of working with districts and charter schools with the aim that educators won't have to use their personal sick leave if self-isolation or quarantine is required. At a minimum, teachers are entitled to two weeks of federal leave if they must self-isolate or quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19 or feeling symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis. Staff may also be required to provide medical documentation of the requirement to be absent from work. Districts, charters and private/parochial schools are urged to strongly consider the disability status of employees who are at higher risk of complications related to COVID-19 infection, including whether such employees are entitled to reasonable accommodations under the ADA. Further details will be provided once final decisions are made.
Will fall sports still be happening?
Now that the state has identified the scenario in which school will start, the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association (DIAA) will make a final determination on what that means for fall sports. DPH has issued guidelines to be followed for sports.
This is advice from the Division of Public Health and should not be considered legal guidance. Schools should consult with their legal team for any legal advice.