Royal Oak Schools reverses decision to resume in-person learning

Clawson Public Schools to continue hybrid learning

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published November 10, 2020

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ROYAL OAK — In a unanimous vote during a Nov. 4 emergency meeting held in person at Royal Oak Middle School, the Royal Oak Schools Board of Education reversed its Oct. 8 decision to bring students back to school buildings Nov. 9 — the first day of the second-quarter marking period.

The decision resulted from Oakland County’s rapid escalation from a “C” rating to an “E” on the county COVID-19 risk determination chart. “E” is the highest risk level, meaning Oakland County cases are at 150 or greater per million, with 20% or greater positivity.

The board approved Superintendent Mary Beth Fitzpatrick’s recommendation to remain in the current mode of virtual learning until at least the end of the first semester on Jan. 29. Fitzpatrick said she made the recommendation after consulting with experts at the Oakland County Health Division.

Fitzpatrick said the district is also experiencing critical shortages of staff due to quarantine rules. At least 30 staff members are currently in quarantine and only two substitute teachers responded positively to the more than 200 subs the district contacted to help out.

If the district resumed in-person education Nov. 9, Fitzpatrick said, it was likely it would have to close individual classrooms, programs or whole schools due to the staffing shortages.

In the plan approved Oct. 8, Royal Oak High School and Churchill Community Education Center students would have remained virtual, while middle and elementary school students would have begun a hybrid model of learning, featuring both in-person and remote elements. Middle and elementary students will now also remain virtual.

The Nov. 4 action also moved the current hybrid plans of the district’s Great Start Readiness Program and special education students to a fully remote model. The recommendation to remain virtual also means that the Young Oaks Latchkey and tuition preschool programs will not be reinstated.

Moving forward, the state requires that the district review its Royal Oak Schools Extended COVID-19 Learning Plan with the Board of Education at least once per month, and Fitzpatrick said the district would continue to assess the situation on a regular basis.

“We’ve had hundreds of emails, calls, letters and conversations that we’ve had around the community regarding this (plan),” Fitzpatrick said. “This is not an easy decision. It’s complicated, it’s complex, and it certainly is not anything that gives us all a chance to sleep comfortably at night.”

While face-to-face education is widely agreed to be the best method of learning for students, Fitzpatrick said the safety, security and health of the district’s students and staff is of the utmost importance.

She added that, if the number of cases of COVID-19 drop, the county reduces its “E” rating and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer maintains the state’s status of Phase 4, the district could look into bringing students back for in-person instruction sooner.

“The challenge is finding the right balance — health and safety is of paramount importance, and then not frustrating parents,” Secretary Maryanne VanHaitsma said. “That’s the part that drives me slightly crazy is how do we best support them to not have to constantly rethink their child care?”

She said she would like to see a very specific, detailed plan that outlines the metrics the district uses to return to school in order to offer the least amount of disruption to families.

Vice President Gary Briggs said that if students returned to a hybrid model and then a COVID-19 outbreak occurred, the pressure on parents from immediately canceling classes would be greater.

President Jeff Brinker said the number of reported COVID-19 cases in the district — depending on the data set — recently either tripled or quadrupled, paralleling the trend throughout the rest of the county that resulted in the “E” rating.

“I think this is the right decision,” he said.

Fitzpatrick added that, in terms of athletics, the district would finish the fall season and that the Michigan High School Athletic Association was proceeding with the 2020-21 winter season.

“We’ve gotten a lot of communication that goes both directions. Families feel strongly about the importance of face-to-face learning and they have concerns about what not being face-to-face is going to do to students emotionally; (for other families), their priority is a health concern — if (students are) not healthy, they’re not going to learn either,” VanHaitsma said. “These decisions aren’t easy.”


Clawson Public Schools
In a Nov. 3 letter to the Clawson Public Schools community, Clawson Superintendent Tim Wilson acknowledged the Oakland County Health Department’s increase of the county risk factor to an “E” rating.

He said he met with Oakland County Health Division officials Nov. 2, who emphasized that the most important data is the data for each school district, and each district’s decision to open or close should be based on that particular district’s data.

“The OCHD also stressed that the spread of the virus is mainly occurring outside of schools at family gatherings and other events where social distancing and the wearing of masks are not occurring,” Wilson wrote. “Currently, our district is not experiencing a large number of staff or students that have tested positive or are currently quarantined.”

He said Clawson Public Schools has had no issues with being able to staff its buildings, and based on the current data for the district and the ability to fully staff its buildings, the district will continue to remain open.

“It is important to note that I am closely monitoring our data. If the data in our district changes where we are seeing a significant increase of staff or students being quarantined, or, if the OCHD advises me to close our schools, I will do so,” he wrote. “If our situation changes and there is a need to close our schools, I will inform you.”

Wilson thanked the community for following safety protocols and encouraged everyone to continue to follow safety guidelines of hand washing, social distancing and wearing masks.