Clawson Public Schools reports in-person return successful

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published January 26, 2021


CLAWSON — The Clawson Public Schools district, including all students and staff from child care to 12th grade, resumed in-person education Jan. 4.

Superintendent Tim Wilson said the process is going well so far, and the district made the decision because local data showed a downward trend of COVID-19 cases both in Clawson and in Oakland County.

Developmental kindergarten through fifth grades returned to a daily format, while middle and high school students returned to a hybrid format that features both in-person and remote components.

“We paid close attention to our district data — what’s happening in the city and what’s happening in the county as well,” Wilson said. “Things have been going well. We’ve had a few positive cases and a few students had to quarantine, but it’s nothing like it was back in November.”

During an emergency meeting Nov. 16, the Clawson Public Schools Board of Education unanimously approved a three-week pause from the district’s hybrid learning model. On Dec. 4, Wilson notified the district’s families that students would remain in virtual learning until Jan. 4, since the data did not provide any clear trends.

“Face-to-face learning is important for kids and helpful to them, and the social emotional piece is a very important part too of being in the buildings for kids,” Wilson said. “If things continue to go well now, I hope to return to a regular schedule soon.”

Billy Shellenbarger, principal of both Clawson High and Middle schools, said the district is in a unique position because of its small size. With 400 students in the high school and 300 in the middle school, he said 6-foot social distancing at all times is possible under an alternating cohort schedule.

“We’re two weeks in and it’s been pretty successful, although we realized some new things poking their head out and showing us that they needed to be addressed,” Shellenbarger said.

Through conversations with parents, students and faculty, he said the district learned that an abrupt stop to students’ structured routines — notably classes and extracurricular activities — coupled with isolating COVID-19 guidelines negatively impacted their mental health in the form of increased anxiety, stress and depression.

Beginning Jan. 25, after press time, Shellenbarger said, high school and middle school students were to begin a new hybrid model of learning that includes four half-days of in-person education and one virtual day.

“Now, they will see teachers every day and see their peers every single day and re-engage in academics a little more to get some consistency,” he said. “We’ve lived it enough to feel very comfortable with the safety measures we have in place.”

Prior to the change, he said, some students would go from 2:37 p.m. Tuesday until 7:45 a.m. Monday on an asynchronous schedule without seeing their teachers or peers.

“We could have sat on our hands and continued down the exact same road. It was working and would have avoided any change, avoided criticism and hurdles, but I took an oath for our kids to assess, reflect and make changes for the betterment of our students,” he said. “Our community has been overwhelmingly flexible.”

He stressed the importance of a high level of communication among all stakeholders in the district, as well as the unique situation of the district’s small size.

“The change we’re embarking on Monday is really going to help our students from a mental perspective and academically,” Shellenbarger said. “I do feel good about what we have done and what we’re embarking on with the new change.”

During a Jan. 11 school board workshop, Treasurer Ted Verner and Vice President Michael Frink both expressed support for the evolution of the high school and middle school hybrid learning model.

Trustee Angela Hamilton said her only concern was that each class would now be 28 minutes long.

Shellenbarger said there would be an adjustment period and that students may have more homework, but that the mental health and wellness benefit of more in-person time for both students and teachers was worth it.

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