School districts, families, educators
facing difficult decisions this year
Back to school preparations this year have been put on hold for K-12 schools in Michigan since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit in March. As COVID-19 cases in the state increased at a rapid pace again in July and into August, members of local boards of education and district administrators are deciding how -- and if -- they will resume in-person classes in the fall. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials issued new coronavirus guidelines for schools on July 23, but as administrators agree, the situation remains fluid and changing every day.
The process for reopening schools amid the pandemic has been widely debated, and currently, the responsibility is with individual school districts to determine what the upcoming school year will look like.
The CDC has released guidelines for reopening K-12 schools and child care programs, though the federal government initially disagreed with their suggestions before amendments were made in July. U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration have been pushing for schools to reopen in the fall while health officials are worried that it may not be safe.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said in a Facebook post that she will “not send our kids and our education workforce into our schools unless it is safe to do so, plain and simple.”
Whitmer released her own guidelines on June 30 meant to help schools prepare for the upcoming academic year. The Return to School Roadmap requires all school districts to develop learning plans for the six coronavirus phases identified under the MI Safe Start Plan.
Most of the state is currently in “Phase 4? of the plan, meaning that in-person instruction will be allowed but with a number of restrictions in place to ensure safety. Regions experiencing phases 1-3 of the plan cannot offer in-person learning at all. Regions experiencing phases 5-6 can also offer traditional in-person learning with fewer protocols in place.
All Michigan school districts are required to finalize plans for the academic year that follow state guidelines and have them approved by their board of education in this month.
Most districts have not finalized reopening plans for their K-12 schools, but rather have shared some details on what students and families can expect in the fall.
Northville Public Schools
Northville Public Schools Board of Education members approved a plan last week to begin the 2020-2021 school year with a Virtual Start for the month of September for elementary, middle and high school students that will transition to an approved in-person scenario no later than the first week of October. The in-person scenario for elementary and Cooke School students includes the option to attend full time, Monday through Friday; while the middle and high school in-person scenario is a 50-50 Hybrid, with students rotating between in-person and virtual learning every other day. The in-person scenarios approved at each level allow for implementation of each of the required safety protocols for Phase 4 of the Michigan Roadmap, along with maximizing implementation of the highly recommended safety protocols to the greatest extent possible in a school setting. Parents/families across the district will have the option to elect a full semester virtual learning option that will continue uninterrupted from the start of the school year, or may opt for the September Virtual Start that transitions into the identified In-Person scenario.
Northville K-12 students will begin the 2020-21 school year on a modified virtual schedule (Virtual Start) from Sept. 8 through Oct. 2. Cooke School, self-contained special education classrooms, and other special programs will begin transitioning students into in-person learning throughout September.
During the month of September, in addition to providing quality distance learning opportunities to students, there will be transition planning, small group in-person support for identified students, as well as in-school orientation and transition opportunities at each grade level. The September Virtual Start will allow students and staff to develop competence around the new Learning Management System that allows for smooth transitions between virtual and in-person learning in the event that intermittent school closures become necessary or our region moves into different phases of Michigan's Road Map.
Following the September Virtual Start, for families selecting in-person attendance: Elementary students will attend full time, Monday through Friday, in-person in cohort class groupings that may include rotating teachers; Middle School students will attend school every other day, rotating between in-person core content (Math, Science, ELA and Social Studies) courses and virtual learning for elective courses and High School students will also attend school every other day, rotating between in-person instruction and virtual learning. Cooke School students will begin with a partial return in September and gradually increase in-person attendance through September until all students attend school five days per week.
Parents/families across the district will have the option to elect a Full Virtual/Distance Learning option that will continue uninterrupted from the start of the school year, or may opt for the September Virtual Start that transitions into the identified In-Person Scenario.
“We will continue to monitor the emerging guidance from the federal, state, and local health and education agencies as the start of the school year approaches, and inform you of any changes necessitating any adjustments to the Reentry Plan and/or opportunities to move more quickly toward a full return to school,” said Superintendent of Schools Mary Kay Gallagher.
Plymouth Canton Schools
Members of the Plymouth Canton Community Schools Board of Education were expected to finalize a plan for students' return to school at their meeting Monday evening.
Last week, during a six-hour meeting, board members announced that classes would open virtually, with no face-to-face classes. That decision came just one week after the announcement that parents and students would be offered several options regarding classed.
Superintendent of Schools Monica Merritt said that input received in a survey of parents and feedback from the Plymouth-Canton Education Association teachers' union weighed heavily on the change of course.
Options that were being considered for re-entry included a family choice of either in-person or fully virtual learning. Option A would have included the return to five days a week in-person instruction, pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. This model would include all health and safety requirements and recommendations guided by the MI Safe Schools Roadmap. In order to best prepare for returning students to full in-person days, the district reentry task force members recommended a phased-in start to this model allowing the district to begin with half-days in-person for the first few weeks of the school year (exact dates were to be determined and communicated prior to final approval). The half-days will help students to acclimate to some of the new requirements of in-person learning, such as wearing face coverings and getting adjusted to our new hygiene, health and safety routines.
Families were also to be offered the full five-days-per-week virtual option during Phase 4. This model would be taught by district teachers utilizing regular curriculum. Once the region moves into Phase 5, which has minimal restrictions and allows for more flexibility for face-to-face learning, the district would begin transitioning this virtual learning option into full five-days, in-person learning.
Option B would include opening with fully virtual classes for all students, which is apparently the option favored by the board of education members. Instruction in this model would be taught by district teachers utilizing district curriculum. Once the state moves the area region into Phase 5, which has minimal restrictions and allows for more flexibility for face-to-face learning, the district would begin transitioning this virtual learning option into full five days of in-person learning. Parameters for screen time limits, live real-time instruction (synchronous), and the use of multiple learning activities will be incorporated into this distance learning model. The virtual learning plan will include support for all students, including those with IEPs, 504s, ELs, and other specialized services.
Another option which was discouraged by the members of the task force was a combination model, called Option C. This included two days a week of in-person instruction and three days of remote virtual learning. Based on the feedback from the Reentry Task Force and stakeholder input sessions, this model presented too many instructional and logistical challenges, and not enough choice for our families.
The Plymouth Canton Community Schools will offer a virtual academy independent of the options, with a minimum of a one-semester commitment. The virtual academy will be available for the entire school year, for any student that chooses this option. This will be a unique opportunity separate from the other options that is an individual choice available to families, a district spokesman said. The academy will be staffed by district teachers utilizing curriculum K-8, utilizing Michigan Virtual curriculum at the high school level. More details about the virtual academy program will be shared as they are finalized.
Phase 5 will offer families a choice of returning to five days a week in-person instruction which would include all minimal required health and safety protocols, guided by the MI Safe Schools Roadmap or the district Virtual Academy, according to a prepared statement.
As guided by the Roadmap, the task force has been engaged in detailed planning for the health and hygiene measures that will be utilized upon in-person reentry to schools. While the Roadmap lists the wearing of face coverings as a strong recommendation for K-5 and a requirement for 6-12, face coverings will be a requirement for all staff and students in elementary, middle, high, and post-secondary schools / programs unless the individual has a medical-based exception with a doctor's note. This is consistent with the most recent recommendations from local, state, and national levels. The district will also be providing hand sanitizer stations throughout school buildings and dedicated times for hand washing will be routine and required during the school day.
Daily COVID-19 screenings will occur for all staff and students who will be entering school locations. During this time period, only essential visitors will be allowed into the school. Social distancing will be practiced wherever possible, and schools will include visual markings to help students with these expectations. Floors in common areas of the buildings will have markings on them, and our building principals and program leaders will lead the work within their individual facilities to support processes for social distancing during the school day.
Romulus, Van Buren and Wayne Westland Schools
In Wayne Westland, members of the board of education were expected to approve the final back-to-school plan this week. The plan includes three scenarios: online learning, part-time classroom learning and full-time classroom learning.
Right now, the state is in phase four of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's reopening plan. If classes start in phase four, students and teachers will return to classrooms in interchanging groups. The district would combine online and in-person learning so buildings were never at full capacity. If the state moves into phases five or six, students and staff will return to buildings full-time. Should the state regress to phase three or lower, all classes would move online. Dignan said the district would work to provide students in need with computers and internet access. Teachers likely will do more to connect socially and emotionally with students, too.
In Romulus, the return to school plan is also awaiting finalization and the Van Buren Public Schools are also still considering options for the safety of students, teachers and families.