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Ferndale, Berkley districts talk framework ahead of full plans for school

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published July 27, 2020

FERNDALE/BERKLEY — On June 30, both the Ferndale and Berkley school districts watched as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer revealed her “Return to School Roadmap” in the era of COVID-19.

Broken down into six phases, the roadmap detailed that if the state was in phases one to three, schooling would be conducted virtually. If the state is in phases four to six, then schools could be open for in-person teaching with various safety protocols in place, depending on the phase. Currently, the Detroit region of Michigan is in phase four, which allows schools to open for in-person instruction with “more stringent required safety protocols.”

Ferndale Public Schools recently released a framework for teaching in the fall, stating it can commit to offering two options: 100% virtual and 100% in-person schooling. The district still is investigating the feasibility of a third hybrid model that offers instruction that’s part-time in-person and part-time virtual.

Ferndale Public Schools Director of Communications and Pupil Services Bill Good said the Board of Education will vote to approve an official plan Aug. 11. As of now, he stated that the district will continue to investigate what’s feasible for the school year ahead.

“It’s just a matter of finalizing our due diligence and research to make sure we’re able to do everything we want to do,” he said. “We don’t want to tell parents, ‘We can do X, Y and Z,’ and so parents then feel safe sending their kids to school, and then they send their kids to school the first day and we’re not doing those things because, oops, we realized we couldn’t do it. So that’s what we’re figuring out now, is we want to make sure we’re getting everybody the best information possible so that they can make the decision that’s best for their family.”

While Ferndale has a couple weeks before its Aug. 11 vote, Good said the district is waiting on information from the state regarding funding, as officials don’t know what it will be next year.

The district’s annual count day usually plays a big factor in how much money it will receive. While Good expects a “per pupil cut coming” down the line, Ferndale doesn’t know how significant that cut will be. Funding also will play a factor in the district’s safety protocols, as Good said they don’t have enough classroom spaces to be able to spread out all of their students and have their desks 6 feet apart.

“With the number of kids we have, the size classrooms we have, it’s just not physically feasible,” he said. “If you wanted to do that, you’d have to bring in temporary classrooms, those trailer-based classrooms. Those are really, really expensive, so if we decided we wanted to commit to something like that, we wouldn’t know if we have the money to be able to afford that.

“That’s why it says in our plan … one of the things we’re not going to be able to do is have 6 feet of space, because we know it’s not feasible right now and we don’t know what our budget is, so we can’t commit to bringing in exterior classrooms. That’s why the budget right now is very challenging, because we don’t know what we have so that we can make informed decisions for the different protocols we want to put in place.”

To gather its own data, the Berkley School District sent out a survey to its community about what learning options they would consider for their children when the year starts back up.

Berkley Schools Director of Communications Jessica Stilger said the survey asked if someone had to choose today an option for instructional learning, what they would pick. The sense the district got back was that about 30% of families who answered would choose the online plan.

“That allows some really good data to work from as we plan the capacity of the online program, and then thinking of some of the safety precautions in the building with that reduction of students,” she said.

An email to Berkley parents and guardians stated the district’s intent to offer an online learning option for any student from transitional kindergarten to 12th grade who opts into it. If the area still is in phase four or in phase five, they also plan to offer face-to-face instruction for students.

“Obviously, we understand that some federal decisions and even state decisions could affect how we open, but we’re focusing on the governor’s roadmap, CDC guidelines, the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines and planning for the safest return we can for those who choose in-person,” she said.

Berkley will look to reveal its own comprehensive plan for reopening at the beginning of August.