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Ferndale, Berkley schools plan for school year in COVID-19 era

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published June 23, 2020


FERNDALE/BERKLEY — As the Ferndale and Berkley school districts have recently finished up their school years, administrators now must look toward how they plan to handle what schooling will look like in the fall in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ferndale and Berkley will have to wade through the uncertain waters of what this summer will bring in terms of the coronavirus. Michigan has been on a decline in terms of positive tests and deaths caused the virus. With the state slowly opening more and more, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer stated June 17 that Michigan schools will be reopening in the fall and that she plans to release more information on the topic June 30.

Currently, both Ferndale and Berkley districts have been separately planning three scenarios for how schooling could look in the fall, though all three are similar in nature. The first plan is reopening the schools for in-person teaching.

“Obviously, that plan will have to come with safety precautions and we will have to make modifications and accommodations based on what the Health Department says, what the state says in terms of safety requirements and what things might need to change in the classroom,” Berkley Schools Director of Communications Jessica Stilger said.

The second plan is a hybrid model of teaching the students in-person and online. Classrooms had to take a virtual direction at the end of the most recent school year.

“This way reduces the number of students significantly that are in the building at the same particular time,” Ferndale Public Schools Superintendent Dania Bazzi said.

The third plan would be continuing the online-only instruction. As they’re planning ahead just in case, Stilger said their online learning would be more robust than what the district did this spring.

“We’ll also make sure we’re going to have some version of an online learning program for families who are not feeling comfortable sending their children back to us in the fall if we’re able to do that,” she said.

Bazzi said going to online-only classes is going to be dependent on the data in terms of where the state is at with COVID-19, in terms of the numbers, Gov. Whitmer’s executive orders and the Health Department’s recommendation.

“Obviously we want students back in school,” she said. “Nothing can replace in-person instruction because it’s hard to form relationships over a Zoom meeting. It’s just not the same.”

“We understand for parents and families who might not feel comfortable with sending their students back to school, first we hope to alleviate those concerns by the precautions that we’re taking and the social distancing guidelines, but if there’s still discomfort, there will be a virtual option for those who choose,” she continued. “Again, based on people going back to work and the nature of education being a person-to-person relationship-building experience, we do hope that students are back in school.”

In the meantime, both districts have been purchasing personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer and other materials needed for when the schools can reopen. Bazzi said they are retrofitting certain areas of the schools, like the administrative assistant desks, so there will be protective shields, and they are purchasing signage to educate students on appropriate social distancing.

“We’re also working with our custodial company … in terms of the most efficient and effective way to keep high traffic, high-touch-point spots clean throughout the school day if we have large numbers of students back in place,” she said.

Stilger said their Operations Department has purchased extra thermometers, masks and face shields for the front-line employees in the office.

After Gov. Whitmer delivered her speech, Bazzi said her words, along with Michigan’s declining COVID-19 numbers, did give her some hope that schools could be reopened. She also stated her appreciation that some local control will be given to the school districts, as “what might be needed in a northern Michigan town is different than a district in southeast Michigan, in terms of population density and active numbers, active cases.”

Stilger, along with Bazzi, are interested in seeing what the governor will present June 30, as both indicated they’d like guidelines from the state on how to move forward.

“We’re hoping for clear safety guidelines,” Stilger said. “Things like, ‘Will children be required to wear masks?’ What are the expected cleaning protocols? We certainly can work through all of that ourselves, but it would be nice if all schools were following the same set of safety guidelines across the state.”