Ferndale Public Schools decided against offering a full-time return to in-person instruction. The district instead will continue to offer a hybrid option of both in-person and virtual education.

Ferndale Public Schools decided against offering a full-time return to in-person instruction. The district instead will continue to offer a hybrid option of both in-person and virtual education.

Photo provided by Ferndale Public Schools

Ferndale schools declines to offer full-time return option

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published April 5, 2021


FERNDALE — Many school districts in Michigan had to make a decision by March 22 whether or not to offer a full-time, in-person option for students.

Earlier in March, the Michigan Legislature passed a bill — later signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — that offered federal dollars to school districts that provided 20 hours of in-person instruction each week.

Ferndale Public Schools recently began offering a hybrid model for students who wished to have some in-person instruction, in addition to virtual instruction. Students at Ferndale’s Early Childhood Center, Lower Elementary and Upper Elementary schools were allowed to return March 1; children at Ferndale Middle School were allowed back March 8; and students at Ferndale High School, University High School and the Tri-County Education Center could return March 15.

To qualify for the federal dollars, districts had to offer 20 hours of in-person instruction each week by March 22. Ferndale decided against offering that option.

Based on the surveys the district sent to students and their families in January, Superintendent Dania Bazzi said, administrators heard that a significant portion of students and families wanted a virtual option

“The request of the community was to have a robust, virtual program,” she said. “Roughly 50% of families want to remain virtual. It would be difficult for our district to expend 100% of our resources on the 50% willing to come back to in-person. So we felt, to meet the needs of our community, that we’d have to offer the hybrid learning and respect the wishes of the community as a whole.”

School board President Mike Davisson stated that the district would like the full funding from the state so the district can purchase personal protective equipment and use it to support its increased summer school program that was developed in response to this school year.

Because the community expressed consistently that it wanted a virtual option, Davisson said the district wanted to honor families’ choices and desires.

“When this came to us quickly in the middle of March, we weren’t prepared to upend our (hybrid) model and come back by March 22 with increased hours because … going back 20 hours a week would compromise our ability to honor the folks who want to stay virtual,” he said. “It would compromise our ability to offer a robust virtual option for our families.”

Luckily for Ferndale, Bazzi said, the district still will receive a significant amount of money. It was set to receive $1.293 million in funding, but since the district didn’t meet the 20-hour requirement, Ferndale will miss out on roughly $100,000.

“Based on that, we just couldn’t change the plan so abruptly, ignoring the desire of our families within our community,” she said.

Ferndale’s decision involved a different set of circumstances than those of the Berkley School District. Because Ferndale gets more federal Title I money as a school district, it was not losing as much money as compared to Berkley. The Title I program is “designed to help disadvantaged children meet high academic standards by participating in either a Schoolwide or a Targeted Assistance Program,” states the Michigan Department of Education’s website.

While the Berkley School District does get some assistance through Title I, it was not as much compared to the assistance Ferndale receives.

According to Berkley Schools Director of Communications Jessica Stilger, had they not begun offering a full-time option, the district would have received $800,000, losing out on $1.8 million. Because the district is offering that option, it is getting $2.6 million in total.

Bazzi said the bill impacted communities differently, so she understood how some had to begin offering the full-time in-person option quickly.

“They were seriously going to lose over $1 million in funding, which they couldn’t do,” she said of Berkley. “They just can’t do it. And the funds, schools need them. So continuing to withhold them is also problematic. It’s put us in a difficult position, but there wasn’t much that can be done.”

Bazzi thinks the district logistically could have made the switch to full-time, but it was something it couldn’t do because of the will of the community.

“We couldn’t have because we would be ignoring the opinions of our community and we weren’t willing to do that based on where the numbers fell, but I certainly understand why other districts did,” she said.

Ferndale indicated that it planned to send another survey to families after spring break, which ended April 2, to ask them how they like the current schedule and if there is a desire to return full time.