Parents and students march outside the Wheat Administration Building of Lakeview Public Schools asking for a return to school full-time face-to-face.

Parents and students march outside the Wheat Administration Building of Lakeview Public Schools asking for a return to school full-time face-to-face.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

Lakeview parents protest, want students back in classrooms full time

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 26, 2021 | Updated March 5, 2021 4:00pm


ST. CLAIR SHORES — While some local districts are getting students back into the classroom four and five days per week, parents in Lakeview Public Schools protested the fact that no such change has been made in their district — and that there was no immediate plan to do so.

“My middle schooler is my reason. He is struggling so bad. We are talking 10-12 hours a day, every day that he is home, trying to get him to focus and do his work, and he was an all-A student,” said Shannon Hazelett, the mother of four boys ages 2-15 years old, three of which currently attend Lakeview Public Schools. “Now, he doesn’t have the socialization at all because when you’re not in school, you don’t have that. He’s emotional every home day. We end up in tears at some point in the day, we all do pretty much, and I just worry.”

Hazelett, along with some other parents of students in Lakeview Public Schools, has created a Facebook group, Open Lakeview Public Schools FT F2F. They also spoke at the Feb. 16 St. Clair Shores City Council meeting, and they protested with dozens of other parents and students outside the Wheat Administration Building of Lakeview Public Schools Feb. 19.

For the 2020-2021 school year, Lakeview Public Schools offered parents two options: Lakeview Virtual School, run by Lincoln Learning Solutions and supervised by Lakeview teachers, or a hybrid model in which students are split into two cohorts that attend in-person classes two or three days per week and then learn asynchronously the remaining days.

But parents say, during the days spent learning remotely, the courses do not adequately teach their students the material and, in some cases, don’t provide more than a few hours of work.

Hazelett said her high school sophomore is still doing OK, but his GPA has slipped from a 3.96 pre-pandemic to a 3.85.

“His problem is, the learning is not coming the way it’s supposed to when you’re in the classroom and you’re actually learning the material. It’s different when you’re on the computer and you’re just looking for answers,” she said, explaining that he then finds it harder to recall the material for tests.

Jacquie Schmitt, the mother of three boys at Ardmore Elementary School, said that while she and her husband are lucky to be able to work from home and, thus, able to supervise their sons’ learning, they are frustrated.

“They need the socialization. They need the attention of a teacher” to give them praise and confidence, she said during the protest. “The science is telling us it’s safe for kids, and it’s safe for the teachers. That’s why we’re doing this.

“My kid told me the other day, ‘I love you, Mom. I don’t like you as my teacher.’”

She pointed out that local Catholic schools, which have had in-person classes five days per week during the school year, have class sizes of 20-25 students, which she believes would be the class size in Lakeview with 20% of the students participating in the fully virtual option.

“If they can do full-time, we can do it,” she said. “Other districts are trying to make it work.”

Schmitt said she’s considering private school for her sons for the 2021-2022 school year if nothing changes in Lakeview.

Other parents spoke about the need to hire tutors to help their child learn the material presented by teachers during the at-home days. Students have different needs, sometimes in the same family, said Bryan Innes, the father of an 8th grader and a 9th grader.

“I have one child who can do everything remote and one who needs to be face-to-face, and her grades are suffering because of it,” he said. He’s concerned that the impact on students’ GPAs will affect them down the road when they apply for college.

As a factory worker, Innes said he has seen that wearing masks and using other personal protective equipment works. He said he is an essential worker and cannot stay at home, but he feels that teaching children is also essential.

“They’re the future,” he said.

His daughter, Elizabeth Innes, an 8th grader at Jefferson Middle School, said she finds it difficult to get her questions answered in a way she can understand when just communicating over email with her teacher.

The youngest students are also affected by the schedule.

“I want to go back to Greenwood because Greenwood’s my favorite place,” said kindergartner Veronica Gonzalez, who said she loves her teacher because “she’s kind and helpful.”

“She does so much better in school,” said her mother, Maureen Chase. She said the at-home work is repetitious and usually takes less than a half-day to complete. “It’s just not enough. She’s very social, so she needs to be in school.”

St. Clair Shores City Councilman Chris Vitale, who lives in the Lakeview school district, said that is why his daughter did not start kindergarten this year.

“We didn’t want to put her on that rollercoaster,” he said.

In responding to the parent protest, Lakeview Superintendent Karl Paulson said that choosing to bring back all of the students who currently participate in the hybrid option — about 80% of Lakeview’s student population — would mean that they could not necessarily follow the social distancing guidelines of 6-feet spacing between students.

And it wasn’t until shortly before the protest that guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed to state that those areas in the blue or yellow transmission levels could open for full in-person instruction with physical distancing 6 feet or more to the extent possible. Because Macomb County had 4.4% positive tests and had a 7-day average of 58 cases per million with a daily case rate of 6 per million as of Feb. 22, the area fell into the blue or yellow transmission level, depending on the data factor used.

Paulson said no one at the district disagrees with the fact that students would be better off in school five days per week, but without clear guidance from the state, each district is forced to study the problem and come up with their own plan.

“Shouldn’t there be a guidance document (so) that I’m not trying to be a scientist and trying to figure it out?” he said.

He said politicians and the state health department have decided what acceptable safety measures are for restaurants and stores, and he feels schools should be no different.

“We’re not qualified, but they’ve made us be the source and that’s the travesty of the whole thing from the start,” he said.

Lakeview Public Schools typically have 24-35 students per class, with lower class sizes for younger children and larger class sizes at the middle and high school. With 20% of the district currently in full-time virtual learning, that would mean that 19-28 students could return to each classroom, depending on the grade level.

While the district may be able to space students apart in a larger elementary classroom, that becomes more difficult in a middle school class that has more students in fewer square feet, Paulson said.

Paulson said they sent out surveys to parents and staff Feb. 22 to gauge how they feel about returning to full-time in-person learning without the full 6-feet distance between students with the transmission levels where they are now. They are also asking teachers how they feel about returning if they have not had a chance to be fully vaccinated. Paulson said it was helpful that the city of St. Clair Shores was able to offer a three-day vaccination clinic Feb. 26-28 where more Lakeview teachers could potentially have the opportunity to be vaccinated. As of Feb. 24, over half of the district’s staff had been vaccinated and 20% said they did not want to be vaccinated.

“I think, if the data points to (the fact that) we should do something different, we might call a (Board of Education) meeting earlier. Surveys and the cases per million and the percent positive — that changes every day and it changes to the better every day,” he said Feb. 24.

The Lakeview Public Schools Board of Education has its next regular meeting scheduled for March 16.

Looking ahead to the 2021-2022 school year, Paulson said he can’t predict the future, but “I don’t see how we’re not back in a regular situation.” Because Lakeview Public Schools has offered a fully virtual program for the past three years, “we have an option available if you are still feeling uncomfortable with it.”

“The idea that we can offer you that option and full face-to-face, I don’t know how that’s not going to be the option next fall,” he said.

Hazelett said her younger children may not be in Lakeview Public Schools next year if nothing changes.

“I do love the school, (but) I have to put my children first,” she said, adding that she wants the Board of Education to start listening to parents’ concerns. “To me, it desperately needs to be reevaluated.

“All of the facts, to me, show that we should be back and follow the example of the schools who are doing it successfully.”