During a professional development meeting, Lincoln Middle School Principal Victor Breithaupt introduces new teachers and discusses with staff COVID-19 issues, including mask mandates.

During a professional development meeting, Lincoln Middle School Principal Victor Breithaupt introduces new teachers and discusses with staff COVID-19 issues, including mask mandates.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

New school year begins in-person for local districts

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published September 8, 2021


CENTER LINE/WARREN/STERLING HEIGHTS — The 2021-2022 school year began locally with students returning face-to-face full time with COVID-19 safety protocols in place, including stringent cleaning procedures and social distancing wherever possible.

One of the most controversial issues with students returning to school is mask mandates. Some parents want school officials to enforce mask mandates for all students, while others feel it should be up to the parents for their children to wear masks or not.

For some students, the new year marks the first time they have been in a classroom since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer closed all schools in the state in March 2020 because of the pandemic. The Warren Weekly reached out to local superintendents to get their perspective on the 2021-2022 school year.

Center Line Public Schools
School began Sept. 7 with full-time face-to-face learning, or students can attend the district’s Academy 21 virtual program.

“Students at our elementary schools are required to wear masks while indoors. Our secondary schools are mask optional,” Superintendent Joe Haynes said via email. “We are encouraging all of our employees and students to wear masks.  Additionally, we are encouraging anyone who is eligible to be vaccinated to do so as soon as possible.”

Center Line will introduce after-school support programs at the elementary, middle and high school levels for students who need to catch up academically. Because of the pandemic, staffing has been “difficult,” according to Haynes. The district has several openings in its support staff groups — including custodians, bus drivers, and aides/paraprofessionals — and administrators are currently interviewing individuals to fill the vacancies. Projected enrollment numbers were not available.

“We are adding students daily to our school district. We are unaware of the number of students who may have moved over the summer. We really don’t know overall where we will be with student count until after a week or two of school,” Haynes said. “Our school of choice numbers are very good. I feel that people see what’s happening in our district and want their children to be part of it.  We have great programs and outstanding teachers and support personnel.”    

Fitzgerald Public Schools
The new school year began Sept. 7. Enrollment numbers were projected at 2,200, although official Count Day across the state isn’t until Oct. 6. Per pupil funding will be $8,700.

Superintendent Kimberly Pawlukiewicz said that while a small group of K-12 students will attend school virtually, the majority of the students will attend in person full time. At press time, district officials planned to let parents decide whether or not their children would wear masks indoors. However, school officials strongly recommend masks be worn. In the meantime, staff will continue to follow COVID-19 safety measures put in place.   

“We’re going to continue with our cleaning and other mitigation strategies,” Pawlukiewicz said. “We’ve added air purifiers to all the classrooms and we’re trying to spread out students during the lunch periods as much as we can. We’ll listen to the Macomb County Health Department to help guide us.”

Fitzgerald “is in a good place,” for staffing, Pawlukiewicz said. “We do have a few positions we are hoping to fill, but we have solid numbers for our staff. Great teachers are coming back. We’ve hired several new teachers at all levels.”

Prior to school starting, Pawlukiewicz spoke with several staff members and students about the upcoming school year.

“There is a lot of high energy,” she said. “There is a lot of excitement and buzz around the district.”

Van Dyke Public Schools
The first day in the district was Aug. 30.

“We are ready for the school year. We are fully staffed. We are so happy everyone will be in person,” Van Dyke Public Schools Superintendent Piper Bognar said late last month. “We have a few students in our secondary virtual program, but most are ready to come back in person.”

Staff, students and visitors will be required to wear masks while indoors or on a school bus, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, regardless of vaccination status. Masks will be optional for outdoor activities.

Van Dyke will use federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, funds to implement extended learning opportunities to students after school. Programs will be offered to students two to three days a week “depending on what the students’ needs are,” Bognar said.

Van Dyke officials also will offer “several mental health and social emotional resources” for students, Bognar said.

“A lot of it is in response to COVID. Some of them have experienced isolation. I think people are stressed because of what everyone has experienced. Kids afraid of being sick,” Bognar said. “Students will learn different coping skills and different responses to anger, frustration and other feelings. Instead of being reactive they’ll learn to be proactive. Children need to feel safe.”

Warren Consolidated Schools    
School began Aug. 31 in person full time. According to Superintendent Robert Livernois, WCS also is offering a virtual academy, taught by WCS teachers, for families not comfortable with their children returning to school.

At the Aug. 18 school board meeting, it was announced parents could decide if their children should wear masks. However, that decision was reversed and all WCS students, staff and visitors will be required to wear masks all day and on school buses.

“​After careful thought, research, and discussion, the decision was made by the district,” Livernois said. “Medical exemptions will be considered by the district after review by a medical professional that meets the district standard for exemption.”

WCS has added counselors to every elementary school and, with staff coaches, will increase literacy interventions for students.

“Through targeted instruction driven by data, teachers will accelerate the learning for students to help them stay at grade level,” Livernois said.

In addition, staff positions are open as “the district is aggressively recruiting staff in all support positions and has needs in bus drivers, latchkey, custodial, and nutrition services,” Livernois said.

The projected enrollment is 12,404 students with $9,529 in per pupil funding.  

Warren Woods Public Schools
School was to begin Sept. 7 with full-time in-person learning. However, some parents requested their children learn virtually. Projected enrollment numbers are at 3,080 students.

“At this time, in Warren Woods, masks are strongly recommended. This is the same as the current guidelines from the Macomb County Health Department,” Superintendent Stacey Denewith-Fici said via email. “If the Health Department is seeing a concerning trend in numbers from our schools, they can issue a mask mandate for our buildings.  If a student has a note from a physician detailing the reason the student cannot medically tolerate a face covering, we will take those on a case-by-case basis.”

Staff will continue to use cleaning and sanitizing protocols and encourage frequent hand washing/sanitizing. Additional handwashing stations will be available, along with frequent touchpoint cleaning, seating charts in lunchrooms, and upgraded heating, ventilation, and air conditioning filters.

Educators will pilot new math materials for grades K-5 and math intervention materials at the high school.  Staff also will implement increased reading intervention programs in grades 6-10.

“We will begin the year by focusing on students social and emotional wellbeing.  Many of our students have not been in a school building in over 17 months.  We have trust to build which in turn will allow us to better address academic deficiencies,” Denewith-Fici said. “Since Warren Woods offered in-person instruction five-days per week last school year, we have a solid set of data to show where our students were academically at the end of last school year. In addition, we successfully hosted over 450 students in our summer school to help build skills. Finally, we will assess students quickly in the fall to see where they might be lacking so each teacher knows exactly how their students are achieving; we will then use this data to prescribe a plan of improvement that could include Leveled Literacy Intervention, specific math or literacy intervention at the middle/high school or targeted tutoring.”

The district is short of bus drivers and might have to start the year with double runs.