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Royal Oak Schools students to begin hybrid in-person learning

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published October 20, 2020

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ROYAL OAK — During the Oct. 8 Royal Oak Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Mary Beth Fitzpatrick revealed the district’s plan to bring students back to school buildings beginning Nov. 9, the first day of the second-quarter marking period.

While high school students will remain virtual, middle and elementary school students will begin a hybrid model of learning, featuring both in-person and remote elements.

On Aug. 6, the board decided that in-person learning, despite reduced class sizes and online elements, was not the best plan approximately a week after district officials presented detailed plans for hybrid models.

Lessons will continue to be taught online through the end of the first quarter, Nov. 6. The new recommendations for middle and elementary students closely resemble the plans initially presented for the start of the school year.

The plans include a kindergarten through eighth grade schedule that features alternating days of attendance for half of the students at a time. Each of the two cohorts would attend class in person two days a week and online three days a week. The plans also included extensive cleaning, social distancing and facial covering mandates for students and staff.

One change in the middle school model for the second quarter is that students will now have the option to eat lunch at school and complete work with staff in the classrooms accessing district technology, or they can go home for lunch and complete the online assignments there.

“It’s still a virtual learning model, but we get the opportunity to bring the kids in twice a week,” Royal Oak Middle School Assistant Principal Dan Colligan said.

High school students will continue virtual learning until the end of the first semester in January, but will now have the option to make appointments and work in small groups in-person on a schedule. The schedule will provide for a regulated number of students in the building at any one time to ensure social distancing and reduce hallway interaction.

The special education hybrid learning model will provide face-to-face learning for students with individualized education plans in small groups on a reduced schedule, and all IEP meetings will continue to be held virtually.

During the presentation of the return to school plan, district officials said each building will have a designated sick room and alternate rooms outfitted with personal protective equipment if a student becomes ill. A staff member will supervise from outside the room until a parent or guardian can arrive, and a custodian will sanitize the space before another student or staff member can use it.

Fitzpatrick said the district worked closely with the Oakland County Department of Health to come up with health and safety protocols.

The district is also working on identifying long-term substitute teachers who would be dedicated to each building in the district in case a teacher is unable to come to work.

The district also provides a Virtual Academy, which parents of students from kindergarten through 12th grade could opt into through the end of the first semester on Jan. 28. The program is aligned with the curriculum of participants’ peers and is taught by Royal Oak Schools teachers.

As of the Oct. 8 meeting, the Virtual Academy had 181 elementary school students, 110 middle school students and 50 high school students.

Registration for the Virtual Academy closed Oct. 19 for middle school students and will close Oct. 23 for elementary school students. High school students will have the opportunity to transition to or from the Virtual Academy at the end of the first semester due to credit requirements.

Reception of the return to school plan is mixed, with parents signing petitions both for and against the return to in-person learning.

A petition called “Face-to-Face Learning for Royal Oak Schools” on change.org drew 222 signatures as of press time.

“Virtual learning has taken a significant toll on our families,” the petition states. “Teachers have gone above and beyond; providing materials, consistent live instruction, and individual help as needed. However, under the constraints of unreliable connections, faulty technology, and screen fatigue, learning is minimal.”

Parents in favor of returning to face-to-face education said their children are falling behind and need social interaction for their emotional well-being.

On the other side, a group of parents sent a letter with 443 signatures to Fitzpatrick and the Board of Education. The four-page letter outlined a comprehensive list of concerns, primarily based around the safety of students as the number of COVID-19 cases trends upward.

“What we all agree on, though, is the lack of transparency, communication, and thought put into how this affects students and their families for the limited benefits of a hybrid plan (and all of its associated costs and burdens),” the letter states. “We are of the belief that the district is creating a great amount of risk for very little reward.”

On Oct. 15, Fitzpatrick issued a lengthy communication regarding the return to school plan to answer questions.

“I am proud of our innovative Return to School plan, which gives families the choice to send their children back to school in-person or continue learning remotely,” Fitzpatrick wrote. “This approach empowers parents to make the best decisions to meet the unique and individual needs of their children and their families.”

For more information, visit www.royaloakschools.org.

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