Farmington Public Schools administrators and staff discuss the district’s tentative plans for the 2020-2021 school year at a PTA “Returning to Learning” town hall July 27.

Farmington Public Schools administrators and staff discuss the district’s tentative plans for the 2020-2021 school year at a PTA “Returning to Learning” town hall July 27.

Screenshot taken from “Returning to Learning” Farmington PTA town hall

Farmington Schools moves forward with all remote learning to start school year

July survey: more than half of respondents wanted some kind of in-person learning

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published August 10, 2020


FARMINGTON/HILLS — At first, they considered a hybrid schedule to start the 2020-2021 school year, but Farmington Public Schools administrators announced Aug. 5 they will instead be moving forward with remote-only learning to start this fall.

The Board of Education was set to vote on the remote learning recommendation at a 6 p.m. meeting Aug. 11, after press time.

FPS administrators cited parent feedback from a second-round survey sent out in July, as well as increased positive COVID-19 case counts being reported across Michigan as two primary reasons they decided to start students learning from home.

“We recognize we are really only mitigating risk, but we could never eliminate any of the risk. As we worked through the roadmap that we’re required to follow, the Board (of Education) was clear they wanted to make sure we could meet all the requirements, but also the strongly recommended items as well,” FPS Assistant Superintendent of Innovation and Strategic Initiatives Kelly Coffin said. “We realized there were some areas where we may be able to mitigate some of the risk, but in particular instances we may not be able to really control what happens next after that.

“We didn’t have the comfort level to be able to say to families that we can bring kids back right now in a hybrid model.”

One example of a situation in which the district felt unsure about its capacity to limit risk and possible virus spread was students transitioning to and eating lunch, Coffin said.

Not every parent is happy about what they feel to be the short-notice change in how the school year will start, however. A group of 111 community members has formed online and taken aim at the district decisions, saying they feel their feedback has fallen on deaf ears. The group has also started a petition, which had 82 signatures of its 100-person goal as of Aug. 10.

“We do hear them, and we have been listening to (their feedback). This has been a process. We’ve really been working through every possible way to bring kids back safely, (but) we also need to have a workforce to be able to support that,” Coffin said, adding that receiving information about substitute shortages across the state hasn’t helped when trying to address the district’s possible personnel issues.

“This is a tough decision for families to make. … It’s hard to come up with a solution that meets the needs of everyone in this situation.”

According to July survey results — the survey is still open to FPS families — a majority of elementary school families, 70%, said some type of in-person learning would best fit their needs this fall, and 74% of secondary level families said the same.

Melissa Turner, an FPS parent who created the “Farmington MI FPS-Parents FOR in-person Learning 2020” Facebook group, said three of the group’s primary concerns are what they feel is a lack of transparency from the district on their decision-making process and the data being used, the continued learning loss and social-emotional deprivation that may occur through virtual learning, and why the district believes sports and child care provided by the YMCA are less of a risk than students returning to in-person instruction.

For Turner specifically, as a parent with a student who has an Individualized Education Program, she’s concerned with how the district plans to address the needs of their special education students.

Jackie McDougal, the executive director of special education for FPS, said at a PTA-hosted town hall July 27 that IEP students will continue to receive the support that is required by their plan.

Though for Turner, that answer isn’t quite satisfactory.

“Although they made a good effort (in the spring), it wasn’t enough,” Turner said. “I feel like they’re just going to continue what they did in the spring, which isn’t really what the kids need.”

Coffin admitted the situation last spring wasn’t ideal, though she said it was more about transitioning to “an emergency learning situation” within one or two weeks’ time. She said this time around, with the district’s investment into a learning management system, students will be given curriculum to help them move forward.

“The difference in this situation is we’ll be making sure that students are learning new content — that they’re making progress in the standards that are required. That we are doing assessments to ensure we identify where they’re at and how we can continue to support them to move forward.”

Moving forward with learning and returning to face-to-face instruction is ultimately the goal for FPS, Coffin said.

The district has transitioned from working through an all-students-back-at-once model to now breaking it down by select populations based on who may be able to safely return first.

Coffin said the district’s primary focus is to have their most at-risk special needs students return first. Other considerations are being made regarding bringing students back by grade level — elementary first, followed by secondary — or where the district buildings are capable of supporting students with social distancing in mind. Coffin hopes to start phasing back in certain populations for face-to-face instruction after Oct. 30.

“When we look at phasing in and bringing kids back, we do want to work with those families who are ready and want that. That’s also going to be some of the criteria we look at as far as who is willing to do this with us,” Coffin said.

The district plans to continue with its investments in personal protective equipment for when they feel students and staff can safely return. The all-virtual learning path is also still available for families. The deadline to sign up is Aug. 12.

Turner, like many others in her group, are ready now however, and they feel it’s unfair for the district to retroactively take away the option for them to send their students to school. She believes that if 22 European countries, as reported by The Guardian online news site, have returned to school with little impacts to positive COVID-19 case counts, the United States should be able to do the same.

“Everybody should have the choice one way or another. For those who don’t want to go back, not one of us is saying they’re wrong. What we’re thinking is that they should have that choice, and we should have our choice of being able to send our children back,” Turner said, adding that if the district were to bring back the hybrid option, she believes many families in her group would be satisfied.

Turner said she and many others in her camp are looking at un-enrolling their children from the district and finding alternative schooling that plans to begin in-person in the fall. If she enrolled her children elsewhere, she said she wouldn’t be returning to the district moving forward.

Losing student enrollment numbers would lead to losing each unenrolled child’s per pupil state funding to the district. Coffin said that of course the district is worried and aware of that possibility, though they’re “worried first and foremost about the safety.”

“We recognize the decision we make is not ever going to make everyone happy, because everyone is on the side of their children and (what) they feel is best for them,” she said. “There are so many unknowns, but at the end of the day, we want our families to stay with us and we recognize we’re all here for the health and safety of our kids. It’s together that we’re going to come up with the best solution.”

For up-to-date information on Farmington Public Schools’ plans for the 2020-2021 school year, visit