Clawson OKs 3 back-to-school options, may go all virtual

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

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CLAWSON — On Aug. 6, the Clawson Board of Education held a special meeting to discuss the district’s plans for returning to school in the fall. The discussion included input from board members, parents and staff.

At 7 p.m. Aug. 12, the Board of Education will decide to either support the current return to school face-to-face options or start developmental kindergarten through 12th grade remotely. The board will also decide how to facilitate child care, preschool and the Great Start Readiness Program Aug. 12, after press time.

On July 27, the Clawson Board of Education approved three back-to-school options for the fall: the 100% remote Clawson Virtual Academy for all grade levels, an in-person option for developmental kindergarten through fifth grade, and a sixth through 12th grade hybrid plan.

The Board of Education meeting took place after a meeting with the teachers union for the purpose of negotiation. Clawson Public Schools Superintendent Tim Wilson shared the results of a new survey that polled 68 teachers in the district that he learned about earlier that day.

According to the survey, which he said was a negotiation tool, 75% of teachers answered the first question that they had “serious concerns” about returning to school for face-to-face learning. Several board members expressed feeling blindsided by the survey and its results.

“What happens if teachers decide, ‘We’re not coming back’? There’s not enough subs to spread around,” trustee Thomas Reed Jr. said. “This is a nightmare.”

Trustee Jessica Back said she was “disappointed” about the new information because she understood that teachers and the union were actively involved in the process of deciding the district’s moves going forward.

“We are literally supposed to be making a decision moving forward and are required by state law to make a decision in the next three weeks,” Back said. “This is really problematic to me. We’re already dealing with parents who are reaching out and are nervous. We’re all nervous.”

Under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s MI Safe Schools Roadmap, local educators must submit a three-pronged plan to the state by Aug. 13 outlining their plans for phase 1-3, phase 4 and phase 5-6. The region is currently in phase 4, which allows for in-person education with high levels of safety protocols. If the region regresses to phase 3, all education must be conducted remotely.

Wilson said all classes would be taught remotely by Clawson teachers using Google Classroom if the region were to fall back to phase 3. If the region moved forward to phase 5 or phase 6, he said, the district would reexamine its plans and decide when to adjust them.

Treasurer Ted Verner said he appreciated the passion and concerns from board members, but that the process is “moving and evolving” and that the teachers’ concerns are “valid, but not deal breakers.”

Verner and Secretary Michael Frink both were involved in the negotiation meeting. Frink said the survey did catch him off guard, but that he could understand how some teachers might have changed their opinions.

“There are people in our teaching ranks who really don’t have a strong idea of what the proposals are. With everybody being so remote and not being able to get together, it’s hard for everybody to get on the same page with the information,” Frink said. “It is what it is, and we have a tough decision to make.”

Reed said he felt the administration needed to continue to speak to teachers to find out whether or not the three options addressed some of their issues.

Back said the majority of parents in the district are in favor of in-person education and that the enrollment for the online-only Clawson Virtual Academy was still “quite low” — no more than 20% of students in each of the district’s buildings.

Students enrolled in the virtual program will take all classes online from home. Clawson teachers will be assigned to the program, and those who enroll in it must remain in it for at least one semester.

Children in developmental kindergarten through fifth grade will automatically be registered for the district’s five-days-a-week, face-to-pace program, unless they are enrolled in the Clawson Virtual Academy. It will follow all the required protocols in the MI Safe Schools Roadmap, and Wilson said the district is working to include all of the highly recommended protocols too.

Under the hybrid plan for sixth through 12th grade, students would attend class in-person two days a week, be online in a Google Meet virtual environment one day per week, and have additional work assigned for the remaining two days per week. All regular classes and electives will be offered in the hybrid plan.

Back said she was concerned with aspects of the hybrid option.

“I’m a little worried about how the education piece works in the hybrid plan. I want to make sure we have systems in place to make sure the online piece of the hybrid plan is well monitored and well run and organized,” Back said. “We all realize the spring online (learning) was not the best option for our kids, and they did not move forward.”

Billy Shellenbarger, principal of the middle and high schools, said the hybrid model offers positives and balances education and safety, with students spaced out in smaller class sizes of 10-15 students. He said staff is still working out how extracurricular activities will look.

“I’m not sleeping in, I’m not taking days off, and I’m not on vacation. I’m doing everything in my power to get these things answered for our families daily,” Shellenbarger said. “It’s a moving target and it’s fluid, it’s a problem and concern, and people are scared. So we’re being as diligent as we possibly can with the decisions we need to make. Please continue to be patient with us. We’re doing our best.”

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