Farmington Hills custodial staff, in a partnership with Grand Rapids Building Services, disinfect high touch areas at Lanigan Elementary July 16.

Farmington Hills custodial staff, in a partnership with Grand Rapids Building Services, disinfect high touch areas at Lanigan Elementary July 16.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


FPS rolls out return to school plan

Hybrid, in-person and remote learning options on the table

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published July 20, 2020

 Farmington Hills custodial staff clean and disinfect the front office at Lanigan Elementary School July 16. A plexiglass shield, a thermometer and hand sanitizer stations have been installed.

Farmington Hills custodial staff clean and disinfect the front office at Lanigan Elementary School July 16. A plexiglass shield, a thermometer and hand sanitizer stations have been installed.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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FARMINGTON/HILLS — Whether students across Michigan return to in-person instruction full-time or part-time, or remain at home learning remotely for the 2020-2021 school year, one thing is certain: The experience is bound to be different than any year prior.

With the announcement of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s MI Safe Schools Return to School Roadmap June 30, the Farmington Public School district is working on a number of scenarios for reopening the district come fall.

 

‘Changes to how school usually looks’
Under Whitmer’s Return to School Roadmap, local school districts must construct and then implement a series of preparedness plans based on the governor’s assigned phase of COVID-19 cases.

Districts are required to create a phase three plan of full remote learning; a phase four plan with strictly required protocols, such as mask wearing and social distancing; and a phase five plan with more relaxed protocols and additional flexibility at the local level.

Whitmer also announced an additional $256 million in new COVID-19 relief funding to help schools buy PPE and disinfectant supplies, hire additional staff to support health and wellness services, and purchase technology needed to help students learn remotely.

“Getting back to classroom learning and remaining in school buildings will require us to make changes to how school usually looks,” Whitmer said June 30. “We must all continue to put safety first, and leverage data, science and public health evidence to inform decisions that we make to serve each and every student in Michigan.”

 

Farmington Public Schools’ plan
Farmington Public Schools Superintendent Robert Herrera said the district is formulating multiple plans, though some may be easier to implement than others.

The district has created plans for full remote instruction for phase three; in-person instruction with required safety protocols, with the likelihood of a hybrid learning schedule, for phase four; in-person instruction with limited safety protocols for phase five; and traditional in-person instruction in phase six.

Families and students will have the option to choose virtual instruction during any phase of the district’s reopening plan, though students would likely be asked to commit for at least a semester.

“(Phase) five and six I think are something that would be easy for schools to accomplish in terms of returning face-to-face with limited constraints. The (phase) four is the one I think most people are trying to get their hands around and figure out the realities of,” he said. “If our Board of Education wants us to truly consider (the governor’s) highly recommended strategies, that’s going to create some logistical issues for us and some challenges with creating schedules and getting all kids access to the school. … We’d be doing some type of alternative A and B schedule if we follow the highly recommended strategies.”

The district’s phase four plans would require face coverings to be worn by staff and sixth-12th graders at all times except meals, and by kindergarten-fifth graders in hallways and common areas. Face coverings would be required when riding the bus for all grades.

The district would also implement one-way traffic in hallways and common areas and continue with cleaning protocols. Temperature checks and additional safety measures would be taken by all before entering school buildings.

Phase five plans would make masks recommended, but not required, and frequent hand washing would be encouraged. Though the district’s plans are not concrete yet, Herrera said teams involved in the decision-making process are having weekly discussions and plan to have a finalized plan by the end of July. The district has until Aug. 15, according to Whitmer’s roadmap, to have its final plans approved by the Board of Education.

According to district communication, more information on the virtual learning option was made available to families July 22, with the district asking parents to specify their interest and intent by July 29.

“With the ever-changing environment out there, the longest we can wait to make our decision, the better off we will be and the best decision we’ll be able to make, but we have to balance that with the timeliness of it.”

 

‘Value-based decisions’
No school administrator, legislator or parent is arguing against the fact that returning to face-to-face instruction would yield the best possible outcome for students across the state, though some parents within the district voiced on Facebook that are still worried about safety.

“I am looking forward to the day that (my kids) can go back to school. Because we could only get the core tasks done, they missed out on so much. They missed their friends, teachers and the school environment,” Shelly Oliver, an FPS parent with two kids enrolled at Longacre Elementary School, wrote in an email to The Farmington Press, “but I do not want them to go back until it is safe for everyone.”

“Teachers and school staff should not be put in danger because parents are worried about their kids getting behind in school. … Let’s do our best with education in the meantime.”

Parent input in the process and decision-making is something Herrera said the district is looking for. The district sent out an initial survey in June and reached out with a second, follow-up survey last week.

“I think there’s certain value-based decisions that will be made by parents regarding their children coming back to school and wearing a mask for a full day. … Those are things we’re going to continue to receive feedback from our parents in surveys and that’ll help influence our decisions over the next (few) weeks, as well.”

For parents who do choose the virtual learning route for their students, Herrera said a new Learning Management System the district implemented should help keep kids on pace.

“I think it would be in the best interest of being able to serve our students and educate the students if we could return face to face. That’s where we do our best work,” he said, “but I do know this return to school is also based on (keeping) overall public health in mind.”

 

Overcoming barriers
District personnel have been working to understand the realities of each scenario, the challenges that may come from each and ways the district can adequately respond to each issue Herrera said.

One big issue for the district is masks — not only the requirement to wear them, but ensuring they have enough.

According to the district’s new weekly newsletter, Moving Forward: Learning 2020-2021, the district has ordered 1.9 million surgical masks to provide one per person daily throughout the year. The district also ordered 500 1-gallon containers of sanitizer, 26 temperature-taking terminals and 20,000 face shields, and it built 120 sneeze guards for office areas.

Herrera said the district plans to apply for some of the $256 million, though he’s unsure just how much the district would be allocated.

“Our personal protective equipment budget would be approximately $1 million for this district. I’m going to be quite certain that any supplemental CARES funding would be to support that,” he said.

Another worry is making up for previous disruptions to curriculum from schools closing in March.

“There was learning loss this spring. I don’t think any educator will tell you anything different,” Herrera said. “We’re really focused on making sure our curriculum is aligned and we’re identifying those essential skills we know students need to be able to do first, and then we’ll expose them to the broader curriculum.”

Then there’s the question of what happens if a student or staff member tests positive for the virus.

Herrera said that students will likely be confined to small cohorts, which will make contract tracing and identifying the means of exposure easier. Students who have been exposed to the virus would move immediately to virtual learning, Herrera said, at least for a 14-day quarantine. The learning management system would be utilized then to ensure there was a smooth transition.

If a teacher became exposed, one worry for Herrera would be substitute teacher shortages. He said if the teacher was simply quarantined but healthy, they could continue to teach the class remotely through the learning management system, with the possibility of a substitute physically present.

“Now of course, if the teacher is ill, we wouldn’t have the expectation that they would continue to provide the course to their kids,” Herrera said, adding that discussions with the district’s teachers unions are still ongoing to ensure the district is being sensitive to not create additional stress or demands.

For more on the district’s reopening plan, visit farmington.k12.mi.us/moving-forward-learning.

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