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This page offers all of Delaware Public Media's ongoing coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak and how it is affecting the First State. Check here regularly for the latest new and information.

William Penn's planned online start latest sign districts hesitant about in-person start

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
The hands-on learning opportunities at Penn Farm will be missed as William Penn High School goes online

The state has not yet signaled to school districts whether they should reopen in-person, online, or some combination of the two. 

But with just about a month left until the start of school, William Penn High School has made a decision: to begin entirely online. 

Colonial Superintendent Jeffrey Menzer says the decision came out of the school-level working group. 

“After about two weeks of assessing and grappling and trying to make something work, it just became very apparent that we need time, with teachers in the building, actually running the district with buses at the elementary level and at the middle school level, to get a grip on what we’re actually going to do with students as they come into the building from a safety standpoint,” he said. 

Several districts in Delaware have chosen to delay the start of the school year — and the statewide teachers’ union has come out in favor of a virtual start to give districts more time to prepare to open safely.

William Penn, Colonial School District’s only high school, serves nearly 2,300 students. Menzer says the school’s size was a factor in the decision. 

“The magnitude of entering students safely into the building, maintaining social distancing, many of the requirements around the health and wellbeing of students— it’s a daunting task,” he said. 

Menzer emphasizes that virtual school will be different from this spring — with five instead of four days of instruction each week and higher expectations for participation. He says William Penn's hands-on courses, like phlebotomy and the agricultural program at Penn Farm, could be priorities for in-person instruction. Menzer is confident every William Penn family has a device to access instruction on, and the district has provided WiFi hotspots for the roughly 1 percent of families who had connectivity issues.

Colonial has not yet decided how long William Penn will be online. Menzer says that timeline may be influenced by the scenario the state Department of Education chooses next month. 

Colonial’s elementary and middle school families will be allowed to choose between online and in-person school. Menzer says a district survey, which has received about 50 percent participation so far, indicates the majority will opt for online.

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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