Royal Oak Schools to start school year virtually

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published August 11, 2020

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ROYAL OAK — In approximately one week, Royal Oak Schools officials went from recommending hybrid models of face-to-face and virtual learning to voting to begin the school year 100% remotely.

On Aug. 6, the Royal Oak Schools Board of Education decided that in-person learning, despite reduced class sizes and online elements, was not the best plan. Lessons will be taught online through the end of the first quarter, Nov. 6.

“This is a terrible position we’re in and unfortunate circumstances, and no one likes making these decisions or having to, but we’re trying to make sure students and staff are as safe as possible in their learning environment,” Vice President Gary Briggs said. “We’re trying to figure out ways to deliver a curriculum that we’ve never had to before. This is all new territory, so please have some patience.”

On July 29, the Royal Oak Schools Board of Education held a workshop in which educators and administrators presented all aspects of the district’s back-to-school plans for learning and safety in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plans included a kindergarten through eighth grade schedule that would include 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.

The recommendation for high school was and will continue to be virtual education, although students will not be able to come into the building for supplemental instruction anymore. Fall sports will resume under state and local guidelines.

A 100% online Virtual Academy, taught by Royal Oak Schools teachers, was to be offered for students of all ages for families. A minimum commitment of one semester of the Virtual Academy was required of all students who enrolled.

Superintendent Mary Beth Fitzpatrick said more than 180 staff members across the district worked on the plans and took into account more than 2,000 parent surveys about the return to school this fall.

“This is a plan that’s been several weeks and months in the making,” Fitzpatrick said July 29. “This is a fluid process. We understand that conditions in our society are changing all the time.”

On Aug. 6, Fitzpatrick said the board would vote on the recommendations at its next regular board meeting, as the district’s plans are required to be sent to the state, despite its decision to begin school virtually. The plans will serve as outlines for when the district resumes hybrid-learning models.

On Aug. 6, the Board of Education approved a quote for a laptop purchase for Royal Oak High School in an amount not to exceed $73,800. It also approved a quote for the learning management system Canvas in an amount not to exceed $50,620.

The district recently researched many learning management systems and ultimately decided on Canvas. Staff will begin to receive training for Canvas and the beginning of the year will start off with a hybrid of online platforms the school currently utilizes, such as Seesaw and Google Classroom, and the new system.

Due to the emergency COVID-19 public health threat, districts across the state shuttered in the spring and offered remote learning options that most agreed did not adequately meet students’ needs.

“This fall, all students will be engaged in rigorous lessons based on state standards and engage in our regular assessment program. All students will receive their report card at the end of each marking period,” Fitzpatrick wrote in an Aug. 7 update. “The week will include many opportunities for students to engage with their teacher and peers online in both recorded and live lessons with their class.”

The district is currently working out how the shift will impact special education classes and services, food service, the Churchill Community Education Center, adult education, early childhood programs, and the Oakland Schools Technical Campus in Royal Oak.

Fitzpatrick said the district would continue to assess health conditions and guidance from the Oakland County Health Department in the weeks leading up to November to determine if a return to classrooms can occur after Nov. 6.

“The phases issued by the governor will also be monitored because if we move to Phases 1-3 in our region, face to face instruction would not be allowed for any schools,” she wrote. “We recognize that our response to this crisis causes families to make tough decisions. Royal Oak Schools remains at the heart of this community and we are committed to serve and support you in the coming school year.”

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