GPPSS students return to full-time, face-to-face learning in March

Staff begins receiving COVID-19 vaccinations

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published February 23, 2021

 Grosse Pointe Public School System students in kindergarten through grade four will return to 100% face-to-face learning March 1. Students in grades five-12 will return to 100% face-to-face learning March 15.

Grosse Pointe Public School System students in kindergarten through grade four will return to 100% face-to-face learning March 1. Students in grades five-12 will return to 100% face-to-face learning March 15.

File photo by Deb Jacques


GROSSE POINTES — After attending school in a hybrid format since October, minus a brief period that began in November, Grosse Pointe Public School System children will return to full-time in-person learning next month.

At the Feb. 8 GPPSS Board of Education meeting held virtually, the school board voted 7-0 to pass a resolution for students to return to 100% face-to-face learning. According to the resolution, students in kindergarten through grade four will return March 1. On the same day, preschool programs will return to typical classroom sizes and operations, depending on enrollment. Students in grades five to 12 will return to 100% face-to-face learning March 15.

Because of COVID-19, two options for students were offered for the 2020-21 school year: “OneGP Virtual” and “GPPSS Traditional.”

Students in the GPPSS Traditional program could return to in-person learning — also known as face-to-face learning — when it was decided that students could return to school. Even when in-person instruction resumes, OneGP Virtual students must stay in the virtual program for the entire year.

Prior to the vote Feb. 8, many parents voiced their concerns about students returning to in-person learning. Others, however felt that it was time for students to return to in-person learning full time.

Board Secretary Christopher Lee said that he heard from many community members on both sides of the issue. He also spoke to a friend who is an epidemiologist who has three children enrolled in the district.

“She was supportive of going back to face-to-face, and she brings a wealth of science to this decision-making,” Lee said.

He also touched upon other districts and parochial and private schools that have conducted in-person classes this school year.

“They have been face-to-face since September,” Lee said. “And they’ve done it with no vaccinations, they’ve done it without air purifiers in their classrooms, they’ve had no testing of asymptomatic carriers, no contact tracing. They have had the same social distancing challenges that we have in our schools.

“In spite of all those issues, these other schools have gone face-to-face and have been successful at it,” Lee said. “I have to believe that it is now safe for our kids to go back full-time face-to-face.”

“The community has been asking questions ever since last March, actually, but particularly since September,” board President Joseph Herd said. “I wanted them to be assured that we do hear you. We’re making an effort to address those concerns to the best of our ability. … Our resolve is there, to get our kids back safely.”

According to Superintendent Gary Niehaus, it is believed that more than 350 faculty and staff have received COVID-19 vaccinations before the Wayne County Department of Health offered them. Most of those employees have gotten their first and second doses of the vaccine.

An additional 450 faculty, staff members, substitute teachers and coaches received their first vaccination Feb. 11. Their second round of vaccinations are scheduled for March 4. That should bring the total to more than 80% of the district’s employees being vaccinated by March 4, although that number could be higher since other staff members may have had vaccinations through other means.

Because many were concerned about families traveling during winter break Feb. 15-21, school officials offered free drive-up COVID-19 testing to students, families and community members during the afternoon of Feb. 22.

Wayne State University Health conducted the testing in the parking lots of Grosse Pointe South High School in Grosse Pointe Farms and Grosse Pointe North in Grosse Pointe Woods.

At the Feb. 22 school board meeting, Jon Dean, deputy superintendent of educational services, and Amanda Matheson, deputy superintendent of business services, provided an update on aspects of the face-to-face plan.

Dean said steps have been taken to test asymptomatic carriers. The district continues to participate in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services program on a weekly basis to test staff voluntarily, and the Michigan High School Athletic Association to test athletes.

Starting March 1, voluntary testing for high school students will be available through a pooling system. Pooling is the grouping together of resources for the purposes of maximizing advantage or minimizing risk to the users.

Dean said that 6 feet of social distancing in most cases will not be possible.

“It will be something less than 6 feet. Sometimes it will be 3, sometimes it might be more and sometimes it might be less,” Dean said. “One of the things that we are focusing a lot on is continuing to have mandatory mask usage. We are continuing to really push having our desk shields and our other shield devices up and using those.”

Matheson said the district will have disposable surgical masks available for staff and students. Disposable gloves, gowns, KN95 masks, N95 masks and face shields will be available for staff upon request. District officials also are in the process of bringing in air purifier systems.