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Lake Shore will phase in to hybrid approach for learning in fall

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published August 14, 2020


ST. CLAIR SHORES — Lake Shore Public Schools will begin the year Sept. 8, but how many students will be in seats inside district buildings and how many will be logging onto their Chromebooks remotely still has to be determined.

The Lake Shore Public Schools Board of Education approved a detailed plan Aug. 12 that calls for parents and students to choose one of two options for the 2020-21 school year — 100% virtual or a hybrid model of in-person and remote instruction.

“We are trying to reopen schools as safely as we possibly can in the midst of a pandemic,” Superintendent Joseph DiPonio said.

The district felt that it was more prepared than other schools during the emergency shutdown in the last quarter of the 2019-20 school year because Lake Shore students all have a Chromebook assigned to them and were already used to using it and the learning management software, so conducting full remote instruction as is required in Phases 1-3 of the state’s reopening is something it feels it can already do, although administrators said they did learn from and plan to improve on remote instruction from the spring.

“Phases 4 and 5 are the most complex” to plan for, however, DiPonio said.

A team of Lake Shore parents, teachers, administrators and staff developed a Return to Learn plan that adopted most of the items required and strongly recommended by the state in its 68-page plan.

Lake Shore Public Schools has already begun offering registration for its 100% virtual option for families, which DiPonio said would likely be the most consistent plan for students because it would not have to change if spiking cases of COVID-19 caused another state shutdown. The virtual option will be flexible and adaptable to the needs of students, he said, while being just as rigorous as in-person learning and taught by Lake Shore teaching staff. More than 250 families had already signed up for the completely virtual option as of Aug. 12, and DiPonio said they hadn’t decided yet when to require families to make a choice.

“Whether you’re in person or you’re a virtual student, you’re still a Shorian,” he said.

Rachelle Wynkoop, assistant superintendent for academic and student services, said the district is asking parents to be flexible and adaptable and it will do so, as well. It is only asking families to commit to one semester or trimester of 100% virtual learning with the option to switch to the hybrid model in November (for elementary schools) or December (for the middle and high school) if they so choose.

The face-to-face option is more complex and requires many more safety protocols.

Lake Shore Public Schools will have a gradual, phased in return to a 50% hybrid model. That means that in approximately the first two weeks of school, about one-quarter of students who elect the hybrid plan will attend school for a half-day on a given day, with the remainder learning remotely. This will allow teachers to teach and manage safety protocols and allow students to get acclimated to being back in school, while also allowing the district to see how safe it is to have students back in the buildings.

“If we start out small, I am confident that we will have successful school days,” DiPonio said, explaining that the worst-case scenario would be having to re-close schools after having too many people in the building at one time.

The district will then gradually work up to an A-day, B-day scenario where 50% of students would attend on rotating days.

Wynkoop said the district has to plan for remote learning and will be using a more systematic approach with classroom weekly agendas in Schoology to maintain consistency whether students are in the classroom or learning remotely. Assessments will be consistent with in-person learning but delivered virtually, and there will be daily synchronous learning and connections.

The district will be creating non-digital learning kits, especially for younger students, so that they are not sitting in front of a computer screen all day. High school students can expect more of their learning to be digitally-based, while elementary students will have things like a “work area in a bag,” Wynkoop said, as well as manipulatives.

Students learning virtually or remotely will have times when they are connecting with their teacher in real-time and times when they are offline doing other work.

In addition, she said, this year the work counts and expectations of students are different than they were during the emergency shutdown.

Lake Shore is temporarily suspending transportation for its general education students, although busing will still be provided for homeless students and those for whom busing is called for in their IEP or 504. This is because the district felt that it could not adequately socially distance to keep students safe on a bus.

Facilities throughout the district, including classrooms and playground equipment, will undergo frequent scheduled cleanings, and meals will be delivered to students in their classroom, where they will eat lunch. Spaces located throughout the buildings and even outside will also be used to space students out. Parents will be able to order meals online and pay for them in advance to minimize contact, and recess will be scheduled to maintain social distancing.

Extracurricular activities will follow the same safety protocols, and may be delivered in person or virtually, depending on the activity. Fall sports did begin practicing Aug. 10, but Wynkoop said the district is still waiting on guidance from the Michigan High School Athletic Association as to how the fall sports seasons will proceed. Assemblies and field trips that require transportation are suspended and each classroom will be sanitized at the end of every day using a Clorox 360 machine.

George Lewis, assistant superintendent of employee services, said they will be trying to reduce the use of lockers and other shared spaces. Masks will be required for all students and staff at all times, preschool through 12th grade, and a doctor’s note will be required to excuse those students who cannot medically tolerate a facial covering. Those who cannot medically wear a mask will be encouraged to wear a face shield, which is also allowed in addition to a mask for other students if they so wish.

Parents will be asked to screen their children daily before they come to school and check their temperature, and there will be hand-sanitization stations at all entry points. The district will be using multiple entry points where available to avoid students congregating or waiting in large groups waiting to get into school.

The district is also looking to hire certified medical assistants to staff its quarantine rooms at every building.

The safety protocols will be similar in Phase 4 and 5, Lewis said. The district does have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment and, while students and staff are allowed to wear their own face masks, the district has a supply of those for those who need it as well.

Lewis said building principals would be establishing schedules and sharing them with teachers and staff and then students in the weeks ahead. The district will also be surveying families to learn who needs assistance with a mobile WiFi hotspot because they do not have Internet access at home.

DiPonio said the approved plan is not set in stone, but will be revised as needed as the district proceeds through the school year.

“This plan is absolutely not one size fits all,” he said. “This is creating a substantial burden on our families and that is the last thing that we want to do.”

Board of Education member Joshua Denzler said while he was voting for and supported the plan, he did not think the district would be ready to open to in-person instruction on Sept. 8.

“I do not think reopening at our normal start date in September is prudent at this time,” he said. “We’re trending in the wrong direction.

“I support this plan for when we’re ready to reopen.”

DiPonio said most Lake Shore students will log on to connect with their teacher for the first time Sept. 8.

“The first day of school will be Sept. 8, and the majority of our students will begin that day virtually,” DiPonio said. “Our goal is to bring in a small group of kids that day (to) start to reacclimate.

“We need to be able to manage the resources that we have in comparison to the number of students that are in the building ... slowly reintegrating students into the building. We’re asking our community for patience and assistance with their children as we move through that process.”