Berkley School District students, including those at the high school seen here, have been allowed to return to in-person instruction for more than a month.

Berkley School District students, including those at the high school seen here, have been allowed to return to in-person instruction for more than a month.

Photo provided by the Berkley School District


Berkley Schools starts to offer full-time, in-person instruction

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published March 22, 2021

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BERKLEY — For a little more than a month, students in the Berkley School District have had the option to return to in-person instruction.

After some time, the district began having discussions on whether to expand its in-person instructional options to allow a return for a full-time schedule of five days a week for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The Board of Education heard a proposal on March 8 that would have had the district offer this option starting April 12.

Board President Keith Logsdon said everyone can agree that having students in-person is the best way to go for their education, and a full-time return is something they’ve wanted for a long time. As someone with a daughter who graduated in 2020 during the pandemic, he said he’s seen how kids struggled through virtual education, and it’s something the board also has struggled with as well.

“We’ve wanted to get back in-person and because of the numbers that have come back with the people that are going to be back in-person, we think it’s pretty much the thought of the community they should be back,” Logsdon said.

While the district was looking at the April 12 return to full-time, in-person learning, the Michigan Legislature passed House Bill 4048 that offered significant federal dollars to districts that provide 20 hours of in-person instruction each week beginning the week of March 22. For the Berkley School District, the amount of money it qualified for through the bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer March 9, was approximately $1.8 million.

The district’s hybrid model didn’t meet those standards, but it’s plan for April 12 did, only that it had to be moved up three weeks to meet the deadline. Superintendent Dennis McDavid said they were left with a choice: either sticking with their April 12 proposal — which hadn’t been approved by the Board of Education — and forgoing the money, or changing course and moving the return date to March 22.

The board decided March 15 to move forward with the March 22 return date to qualify for the federal dollars.

“Every dollar is important,” McDavid said. “We know we have all of the staff members vaccinated who wanted to be vaccinated, and so they made the decision to pull forward.”

Logsdon personally wanted the kids back in-person, but he stated this decision weighed heavily on every board member and it wasn’t a choice they made lightly.

“We all lost sleep over this decision, but at the end of the day, it’s the right thing for kids to be back in school in-person,” he said.

That being said, Logsdon felt the Legislature and Whitmer put the district in a difficult situation by choosing March 22 as the “magic day” for kids to return to in-person instruction.

“Who was the expert that said March 22 is the day? We were ready to come back April 12, and I think we would’ve been fine with that,” he said. “It just gave a little bit more time for the transition and that sort of thing, but for them to put that kind of date tied to that money, I mean, it’s extortion and we didn’t appreciate being put in the position by them with this legislation that made people make a choice. And how many other districts are doing that for that money? … It’s not a small thing.”

McDavid said the $1.8 million they will receive will help cover some of the district’s expenses for supplies that it’s purchased during the pandemic, including computers for students studying online, personal protective equipment, desk shields, disinfectant, gloves and masks.

“It’ll be used to sort of fill those holes where we spent budget money on those things,” he said. “We’re also looking at taking a good portion of that money and using it or another funding source as a way to give staff members a little bit of a bonus for the work they’ve done this year.”

According to a letter sent to the community by McDavid, the updated plan includes a change to the secondary in-person options. For grades 6-12, students will have the option to report to school five days a week or report in a hybrid schedule with some days in-person and some days livestreaming into the classroom. Students also still have the option to remain virtual.

For more information on the district’s return plan, visit berkleyschools.org/about/return-to-school-2020.

Logsdon stated he knows this transition won’t be easy, but he hopes the community will give the teachers time to settle into this new phase.

“Our teachers always rise to the occasion,” he said. “Every single time we’ve asked them to do something, they do a great job. We have some great teachers and that’s why I feel very confident this is gonna be just fine.”

“We know that pulling this forward to March 22 has created a great deal of stress and work on our teachers and our administrators, and so they’re reacting like champions,” McDavid added. “They’re making the best of a bad situation as they always do, and we’re just so fortunate to have such great people in this district.”

As the district moves forward with its plan, it has stated its intent to work closely with the Oakland County Health Division to monitor any coronavirus cases that do come up. If a student does test positive, McDavid said, the district will conduct contact tracing and follow the advice of the county.

“If they think cases are too high in the community and advise that we need to close a school or close a classroom, we’ll do that,” he said. “We don’t want to have to do that, but we’ll do that on their advice. We’ll continue to monitor, working with our partners.”

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