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Governor releases back-to-school plan

Educators plan for 2020-2021 school year

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published July 7, 2020


GROSSE POINTES — Now that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has released her MI Safe Schools Roadmap, local educators can continue planning for the 2020-21 school year.

The governor’s back-to-school plan, released June 30, provides safety protocols to keep school communities safe based on the status of COVID-19. The plan is the result of the Return to School Advisory Council and the COVID-19 Task Force on Education.

Because of the virus, in mid-March, Whitmer closed all schools until the end of the 2019-20 school year. The plan recommends that students return to school in person. However, that could change depending on further outbreaks of the virus.

The MI Safe Schools Roadmap provides recommendations across mental and social-emotional health, instruction, and operations within each phase of the MI Safe Start Plan, which has six phases and, at press time, was in phase four.

All pre-K-12 schools must follow the safety protocols outlined in the plan noted as “required.” Many schools also may choose to implement some or all of the “strongly recommended” or “recommended” practices.

At press time, in-person instruction is permitted with required safety protocols. School districts will retain the authority to close school buildings even if they have not been mandated to do so.

The plan requires that facial coverings be worn by staff members except for meals. Face masks must be worn by sixth to 12th grade students, but they are not mandatory for K-5 students.

Facial coverings also must be worn by all bus drivers during transportation and all students who ride the bus, and they must be worn in building hallways and common areas by pre-K-12 students except for during meals.

However, any staff member or student who cannot medically tolerate a facial covering must not wear one. Under the plan, it is recommended that pre-K-5 and special educators consider wearing clear plastic masks so students can see their lips moving.

Schools also must provide hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, soap and paper towels. Strongly recommended per the plan is the spacing of desks 6 feet apart in the classroom, with class sizes kept to a level to meet spacing requirements. All desks are recommended to face the same direction toward the front of the classroom. Staff and parents will need to remind students not to share things, such as utensils or brushes.

Teachers should maintain 6 feet of spacing between students as much as possible. Family members or other guests will not be allowed in the school building except under extenuating circumstances determined by district officials. Indoor assemblies that bring together students from more than one classroom are prohibited. In addition, the plan recommends school officials hold weekly discussions with local public health officials about the virus.

Under the plan, frequently touched surfaces including light switches, doors, benches and bathrooms must undergo cleaning at least every four hours with either a diluted bleach solution or a disinfectant approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Student desks, libraries, computer labs, art supplies and other hands-on classrooms must undergo cleaning after every class period with either an EPA-approved disinfectant or diluted bleach solution. Strongly recommended is that every school should identify and designate a quarantine area and a staff person to care for students who become ill.

The complete MI Safe Schools Roadmap is available at

Grosse Pointe prepares for school
Prior to the plan’s release, Grosse Pointe Public School System officials already had been planning for the new school year. At the June 22 Board of Education meeting held using Zoom videoconferencing, Jon Dean, GPPSS deputy superintendent for human resources and educational services, presented the district’s Return to School Task Force plan dated June 17, 2020.

The goal of the task force is to plan a safe and effective return to school this fall by providing recommendations that will be reviewed by the community and implemented as needed by August.

“Many decisions regarding opening school will not be made at the local level,” Dean said. Many decisions will be made by the state. “We need to understand there are certain things in our zone of control, but there will be certain things beyond our zone of control. At the end of the day, though, we have to realize we have to be ready for kids in September of 2020, and we are very confident we will be.”

The task force’s steering committee comprises Dean; Maureen Bur, director of secondary instruction; Grosse Pointe South High School Principal Moussa Hamka; Stephanie Hayes, director of student services; Keith Howell, director of pre-K-4 instruction; Amanda Matheson, deputy superintendent of business services; Grosse Pointe North High School Principal Kate Murray; and Director of Human Resources Nicole Pilgrim.

The task force has designed three possible scenarios for the 2020-21 school year: school buildings not open, a partial open hybrid with safety precautions in place, and fully open buildings with all students in attendance with safety precautions in place.

If school buildings close due to COVID-19, teaching will be done remotely via online learning.

“That’s how we have really been doing schools since the middle of March,” Dean said.

The hybrid plan would include a blend of in-person attendance and remote instruction.  

“We have to be somewhere on this continuum,” Dean said. “The governor will most likely determine where on the continuum we are.”

Fully open has students in class every day, with the chance for short-term closures if required.

“We’re fully open kind of back to the way it was before … but with new safety documents in place,” Dean said. “We are committed that whatever sort of schooling we end up implanting in the fall, it must result in full state aid.”

Dean reminded the school board and audience that the district needs to be “nimble,” because Whitmer is leaning toward having students back in school full-time.

“On Thursday of last week, the governor made an announcement, barring something she doesn’t see, we are going to be back in a full face-to-face environment in the fall,” Dean said. “We still know we have to provide some options for families that can’t or won’t be able to do that. There are going to be some medically fragile students that will not be able to come to school. There also might be some families that say from their perspective it would not be best for them to come to school.”

The task force committee also has three subcommittees with various responsibilities to help with the return of school. There’s a safety committee, a structure committee and a learning committee.

“That’s an excellent report. I know you guys have been working very hard incorporating a lot of people on this project,” board President Margart Weertz said and added that the district went to online learning the day after schools were closed.