Schools begin phase-in process to go back to classrooms

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published October 5, 2020

 Cassandra and Calista Johnston, 10, mask up for their first week of classes at Bloomfield Hills  Middle School.

Cassandra and Calista Johnston, 10, mask up for their first week of classes at Bloomfield Hills Middle School.

Photo provided by Mary Holaly, communications coordinator for the Bloomfield Hills Schools District

 First-grader Celeste Rogers gets down to business at her desk at Bingham Farms Elementary School.

First-grader Celeste Rogers gets down to business at her desk at Bingham Farms Elementary School.

Photo provided by Brielle Blackwell from the Birmingham Public Schools District

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BIRMINGHAM/BLOOMFIELD — So far, the transition to in-person learning for students in the Bloomfield Hills Schools and Birmingham Public Schools districts has been smooth and safe, according to administrators.

Both districts opted to start the 2020-21 school year fully virtual, with the intention of reintroducing students and staff to in-person instruction later in the fall.

For Bloomfield Hills Schools, that started almost immediately, with early childhood education programs headed back to facilities on Sep. 14. From there, Wing Lake Developmental Center students and kindergarteners returned to classrooms Sept. 21, followed by first through fifth grades on Sept. 24, sixth through eighth grades Sept. 29 and ninth through 12th graders Oct. 1.

“We’ve had wonderful support from our families who’ve clearly spent time preparing their children for the new normal at school,” Mary Hillberry, the principal of Lone Pine Elementary School, said in an email. “Our students and staff are doing a terrific job acclimating to new routines, procedures, schedules and technology. Seeing and hearing children back in our building has been rejuvenating for all of us — we are so happy they are here.”

Going back isn’t as simple as making it to class by the time the bell rings, though.

For Bloomfield Hills Schools students, the schedule is staggered to keep students as distanced as possible. Elementary and middle school students are split into morning and afternoon groups, where they spent part of the day in class and the other part distance learning. High school students attend full days of class on alternating days, doing virtual instruction on other days.

Add to that daily pre-screenings for symptoms of COVID-19, in compliance with the Oakland County Health Division. That can get confusing for families to keep up with, but Conant Elementary Principal Nicholas Russo said everyone is doing their part to make it work.

“Students are resilient. They are completely mindful of our new procedures and practices and are so excited to be back in a familiar setting. Of course, this is a direct result of parents and teachers partnering together to help our children know our new norms,” Russo said in an email.

Birmingham Public Schools kindergarteners, first graders and special education students returned to class Sept. 20, followed by second and third grades Oct. 7, after the Eagle’s press time. After that, fourth and fifth grades were slated to return Oct. 14, and then sixth through eighth graders Nov. 4.

The timeline for bringing high school students back to in-person learning was scheduled to be discussed at a Birmingham Public Schools Board of Education meeting scheduled to be held after the Eagle’s press time.

When Birmingham Public Schools brings more grades back to class, daily screenings will be a must for students, too, and completed screenings need to be turned in by guardians for each student every morning by 6:30 a.m. The screenings can be done online or on an app available for smartphones.

Masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing are major elements of the school day for students and teachers alike. Even with every precaution in place, some school personnel have expressed worry about returning to in-person learning while the virus is still spreading in communities.

“We know that anxiety is high for many people right now, including our staff members. We have worked diligently to provide proper PPE, put proper safety protocols in place and communicate new expectations to staff, our students and our families,” said Anne Cron, the communications director. “As with any start to a school year or new transition, we’ll be flexible and adjust where needed to ensure a great year of learning for our kids.”

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