Birmingham, Bloomfield students revert to all-virtual learning

‘For now, we are prioritizing safe practices over “best” practices.’

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published November 18, 2020

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Even before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had a say in the matter with her latest health order, the Bloomfield Hills Schools and Birmingham Public Schools districts made the call to switch all students back to virtual learning.

BPS moved to a fully virtual environment, with all schools and programs going online until further notice, beginning Nov. 16. The decision was made, administrators said, because data from the Oakland County Health Division showed continually increasing cases of COVID-19 in and around the district.

Both districts have returned to “Red” status, which means that there are reportedly more than 25 cases per 100,000 students.

“We have, unfortunately, had one building where spread has occurred. In four other buildings, we have extensive quarantines in place. This is despite our best efforts to mitigate spread and put safety protocols in place proven to work in most cases. With cases in our community growing by the day at extreme levels, more cases are entering our schools and heightening risk to those in person,” BPS officials wrote in a statement that went home to district families.

In the last week of October, there were four positive cases reported districtwide. The following week, there were more than a dozen cases, with more expected. The level of quarantines became “unmanageable,” administrators said.

“For some, this message is a relief. For others, it exasperates the great frustration you’ve already felt. We recognize these feelings, but we hold ourselves to our commitment to do what is best for our students, community and staff,” BPS officials said in a statement. 

BHS had fully transitioned to virtual learning at all grade levels by Nov. 11. According to Shira Good, the director of communications and service standards for the BHS district, the switch went smoothly, though not without some expected dissent.

“We heard from a few families who expressed displeasure with the change (…) but I will also say that we received feedback of appreciation for moving back to fully distance learning given the case counts. It’s not an easy decision either way — there’s disruption to family routines and learning, but our teachers are absolutely amazing and are moving forward with instruction and support of students in remarkable ways, despite the challenges.”

The Michigan High School Athletic Association set the tone for both districts regarding sports events, though that was overruled by Whitmer’s order last week. You can find detailed coverage of MHSAA sports during the closure in the Eagle’s sports section.

As to when in-person classes might resume, both districts — currently in a “Red” status, prompting the return to all-virtual instruction — said they’ll continue to monitor information from the county’s health division when they make that call for their respective community. BHS said they would require at least 21 days in “Orange”status before a transition back to classrooms, beginning with the youngest learners. Orange status requires a reported virus test positivity rate lower than 10% daily. 

“We are far from what we presented to families in the spring in terms of our distance learning across the district. That said, we will keep a constant eye on the data and trends for a possible return to in-person teaching and learning as we know that's ideal and greatly desired,” Good said. “I think everyone wants desperately to return to ‘normal,’ but it's likely to be a long time before that happens, unfortunately. For now, we are prioritizing safe practices over ‘best' practices.”

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