Fraser Public Schools to remain all-virtual until Dec. 8

Decision coincides with state’s newest restrictions

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published November 19, 2020


FRASER — The Fraser Public Schools Board of Education unanimously voted Nov. 16 for learning to be fully virtual for three weeks before returning to a face-to-face model Dec. 8.

The board’s decision was in response to the state’s three-week restrictions barring in-person high school and college classes, as well as eat-in dining at bars and restaurants and the suspension of organized sports.

There will be eight half-days before winter break begins and students return Jan. 4, 2021. Currently, specifics for those December days have not been fully defined. The board said bringing back face-to-face instruction will depend on the state of restrictions at that juncture.

Originally, the FPS Board of Education voted Oct. 13 to allow students to come back to school, while also providing a virtual learning option for all families who are not comfortable with their children being in physical learning environments.

The district contacted families and asked them to choose which kind of learning instruction they favored, accompanied by information related to each option.

Choices made will be binding throughout the end of the current school year, barring state or local health officials reverting back to all-virtual learning.

“We are mindful of the rising number of COVID cases in our communities and want to do our part to help flatten the curve,” FPS Superintendent Carrie Wozniak said after the board’s vote. “Our board was presented with several options at the meeting and decided it was in the best interest and safety for all of our staff and students to pause in-person learning for the next three weeks.

“We wanted to be consistent across all grade levels. We have witnessed cases rising in our area, and know how quickly staff and students in quarantine can disrupt the learning process.”


A fluid learning situation
Wozniak sent out multiple communications to district families on Nov. 15 and 16, and another letter to parents on Nov. 17 following the vote.

During the Nov. 16 meeting, she called it a “very challenging time” with “a potential spike in cases” occurring following the Thanksgiving holiday.

“We know this is really difficult for everyone and we’re all really struggling with these challenges,” she said, citing rising quarantine rates of staffers and students. “We really believe those three weeks will give us a chance to recalibrate … and hopefully be healthy and make good decisions.”

Board members cited that consistency is important among the grade levels. Ron DelVillano said an aggressive plan “will help set us up to be successful.”

“Everyone is feeling a lot of pressure to make the right choice,” Wozniak continued. “It’s also difficult to say to half of your workforce, your teachers, you’re in a high-risk situation and you have to shut down. … It is creating a really difficult dynamic for labor across the county and the state.”

Parent Angela Ciaramitaro said virtual learning is more difficult for students with special needs.

“When he’s (at school), he thrives,” Ciaramitaro said. “He’s been back in person. We don’t do the virtual in the afternoon because it’s pathetic. I’m going to be blunt in my words: it’s not ideal.”

Mary Johnson, who teaches in another district, said quarantine measures could cost 10 days or more of lost instruction time.

“I am so thankful you looked at this plan and what was safest for our students, and that’s to stay home from school. … If you continue down this path of just kicking this bucket down the line, when we go back is it going to be safe enough?” Johnson said.

FPS Board of Education President Laura Edghill said Nov. 17, one day after the approximate four-hour virtual meeting open to the public, that staffing remains a challenge at this juncture.

Edghill, who has three children of her own at three different grade levels, said the board does its research, crunches numbers and looks at data as to how to proceed in a safe and sensible manner. She said of course some people will disagree with measures moving forward.

“We have a community, people are in very different places,” she said. “The pandemic is hitting them in different ways and affecting their lives in different ways. The board’s job is to forge a path forward for our community and our schools that tries to take that into consideration and continue to educate our children to the best of our ability.”

The system is designed to pivot if required, she said, understanding that further restrictions could come down the line. It is also an acknowledgement that a vaccine is not coming anytime soon and the earliest “normal” school year would begin next fall.

While some parents are not happy with virtual education, Edghill said it works well for some students — notably those at the high school and middle school levels. Younger students, and those with special needs, “benefit the most” from face-to-face instruction.

At press time, transition meetings were scheduled to take place Nov. 23 and 24.

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