Districts prepare for the new school year

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published August 21, 2020

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Editor’s note: This article includes the latest information as of press time. Because the COVID-19 situation is constantly changing, please note the districts’ school plans could be modified at any time.

WARREN/CENTER LINE/STERLING HEIGHTS — Educators continue to prepare for the 2020-2021 school year.

School officials have been planning all summer long to try to figure out the best return-to-school plans for staff and students amid the coronavirus pandemic. On June 30, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer released the MI Safe Schools Roadmap, which provides safety protocols to keep school communities safe based on COVID-19 status.

Per the state, school districts must adopt a COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan, detailing how they will cope with the virus across the six phases of the Michigan Safe Start Plan. The MI Safe Start Plan outlines how the state’s businesses, social gatherings and other events will open back up. At press time, the state was in Phase 4 of the Safe Start Plan, but that could change at any time.

Center Line Public Schools
During a special virtual Board of Education meeting Aug. 17, the Center Line Public Schools Board of Education voted 4-3 to welcome the students back this fall in a hybrid format. Board Vice President Karen Pietrzyk made the motion.

Pietrzyk, Wendy Watters, Shelley Harenski and Dan Snyder voted in favor of the measure, while Gary Gasowski, Darrell Vickers and Henry Newnan voted against it. Prior to the hybrid vote, Newnan made a motion to hold school virtually, meaning students would not be in school and would learn online. Newnan, Gasowski and Vickers voted in favor of virtual learning, while the other four members voted against it. It failed 3-4.

On Aug. 18, new Superintendent Joseph Haynes issued a letter to the CLPS community outlining the hybrid program. With hybrid, the students will spend part of their time in class at school and the other part at home learning virtually.

Students will be split into cohorts A and B to allow for social distancing. On Mondays and Tuesdays, cohort A will attend school in the buildings. On Thursdays and Fridays, cohort B will attend school in the buildings. On Wednesdays, all students will use the virtual format for learning so the custodians can deep clean and sanitize the classrooms.

Parents who don’t want their children to return to school because of the pandemic have the option of enrolling their children in the district’s virtual Academy 21 program, which has existed for many years.

As per the letter, the deadline to enroll in Academy 21 is Aug. 27. Students must commit to attend for one full semester and can transfer back to their regular school when they are ready to return to in-person learning. For more information, visit ac21.clps.org.

In the letter, Haynes states more information regarding “specific procedures will be coming from building principals in the near future.” The district’s website address is www.clps.org.

Fitzgerald Public Schools
Earlier in the month, the district planned on offering virtual-only to students in grades 6-12, and students in Pre-K through grade 5 could either attend school in person or do virtual instruction.

However, on Aug. 20, Superintendent Laurie Fournier posted a letter on the district’s website at fitz.k12.mi.us stating all students will start the 2020-21 school year Sept. 8 in a virtual learning environment.  

“With information the Governor (Gretchen Whitmer) has recently presented in her press conferences, Macomb County has the highest rate of cases per million in the Detroit Region with 97 cases per million people per day and a positivity rate of 7.3%,” Fournier states. “We also monitor the information we are receiving from the Macomb County Health Department. It has become clear that we need time to ensure our student and staff safety by reviewing and refining our safety protocol implementation prior to bringing students back for any in-person learning.

“We recognize that those who need in-person learning the most may face challenges in this initial virtual schooling experience,” according to the letter. “As such, we plan to offer in-person support for some of our at-risk students; students with IEPs, those who need OT/PT services and those who benefit from other in person interventions will be provided in-person support from our highly qualified staff members.”

The letter states “all students will be engaged in rigorous lessons taught by Fitzgerald teachers, based on state standards.” Staff will use Google Classroom for all K-12 instruction and communication. That includes many opportunities for students to engage with their teacher and peers online, in both recorded and live lessons with their classes.

The district’s food service provider Aramark will continue to provide breakfast and lunch to students. FPS has included a Frequently Asked Questions page on its website.

Van Dyke Public Schools
Van Dyke is going fully online for all students. School begins Aug. 31. After studying the data from various health experts, administrators and the Board of Education felt virtual learning was the best option to keep students and staff safe until face-to-face learning resumes.

Van Dyke teachers will provide the online instruction. Students will be assigned teachers just like they would as if they were returning to school in person. Students also will be graded on their work, and each day will be planned out.

Students will check in each morning and receive instruction from their teachers. There will be two-way communication between teachers and their students, and the instruction will be better organized than when schools abruptly shut down in March.

“It will look different than in the spring,” Superintendent Piper Bognar said. “There will be more interaction and more accountability.”

The district will use Google Classroom for instruction, and each student will receive a Hewlett-Packard laptop with wireless access to use at home. Google Classroom is a free web service. It streamlines the sharing files between teachers and students, and integrates documents, slides and more into a cohesive platform to manage student and teacher communication.

“We know it’s not easy,” Bognar said. “We’re all going through this together. If you need something from the school, we’ll do everything we can to help you. We’re hoping to be back in school as soon as possible. The teachers want to see the students.”

Bognar said the district will continue to provide meals to students. Information on food distribution will be posted on the district’s website at www.vdps.net.

Warren Consolidated Schools
At a virtual Board of Education meeting Aug. 19, the school board voted 6-1 to start school Sept. 8 in a remote learning environment for all students, except those who are required to have in-person support as required by state and federal law. Board Trustee Susan Jozwik voted against the measure.

“Our district should be offering more than just remote learning. We should be open to offering more options, not less,” Jozwik said. “I have reviewed several plans across the state that have staff and students returning to class. I will need to choose to vote no on this proposal.”

“It seems prudent for us to start this way,” Superintendent Robert Livernois said. “By moving everyone to remote, they’ll all be in the same environment. There’s no way we would have come close to social distancing.”

The district will use Schoology for the online courses as it will be a point of contact for teachers and students. During the meeting, Chief Academic Officer John Bernia went over the parents’ guide to remote learning posted on the district’s website at www.wcs.k12.mi.us.

The parents’ guide included sample schedules for elementary, middle and high school students, and information on student attendance, grades, curriculum and instruction, teacher work time, students with disabilities, nutrition services, and more.

“Families will receive a formal schedule from their principals,” Bernia said.

At the meeting, the school board also voted 7-0 to purchase 9,000 laptops — not to exceed $4,662,000 — for the students to use during remote learning. The money to pay for the laptops will not come out of the general fund, but from coronavirus relief funds.

During the meeting, Board President Susan Trombley made a pledge.

“I’m going to make a commitment to our parents, community and children that we’re going to continue to search for a safe return to school,” she said. “We will find a way.”

Livernois said that online parent surveys were conducted and that 62% parents who responded wanted to keep their children at home or weren’t sure, and 37%  wanted their children to return to school in person.

Warren Woods Public Schools
School begins Aug. 31 in Warren Woods. The district will begin in a virtual format through Sept. 25, and students will meet with their teachers daily online. Band, music and gym will be offered virtually.

During the first month, small groups of children will be brought in for specific intervention and support. The small groups also will practice safety protocols that will be in place when students return to face-to-face learning.

According to Superintendent Stacey Denewith-Fici, all Warren Woods teachers will deliver the curriculum. Parents have the choice to return to face-to-face instruction as soon as possible or remain in the virtual environment for the entire first semester. Staff members can request a leave of absence, should they not be ready to return to in-person instruction.

The district will loan laptops to students in need. Food distribution to Warren Woods students will continue. There has been no confirmation from the state regarding standardized tests this fall.

WCS added a FAQ’s page on its website.