Schools begin plans to partially reopen in fall

By: Tiffany Esshaki | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published June 4, 2020

File photo by Donna Agusti

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WEST BLOOMFIELD — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered all schools closed to students March 16. Since March 17, anxious parents have waited for any kind of update as to when their kids can get back into the classroom.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released early guidelines on how schools should reopen in the fall for the 2020-21 academic year.

The most likely scenario, provided the rate of COVID-19 infection continues to slow, is that classrooms will be tweaked to maintain a disinfected learning space. CDC suggestions include spacing desks and seating 6 feet apart when possible, limiting nonessential visitors, staggering schedules and removing as many shared objects as possible. Ideally, those plans would include a ramped up schedule for disinfection of school facilities — not just furniture, but ventilation systems and transport vehicles.

At its May 19 regular meeting, conducted on Zoom, the Birmingham Public Schools Board of Education discussed a potential framework for returning to school in the fall. Currently, Superintendent Mark Dziatczak said, the district is on step three of a six-step plan to bring teachers and students back into buildings for instruction. Not until step five would K-12 face-to-face engagement be brought back at schools, with social distancing measures. Until that point, classes — including summer programming — will be done virtually.

If the virus spread requires that isolation is still in place in the fall, curriculum will be adapted for that.

Making that call will be three ad hoc committees created by the district to guide decisions: a mental health and wellness group, an instruction group, and a group for district health and safety. They’ll liaise with volunteer leaders and will open parent forums for feedback.

In the West Bloomfield School District, three models are being considered for fall 2020, each with safety milestones to be met and technological options if they are not.

Both districts note that many medical groups believe distance and virtual learning will continue to be part of education through at least the fall semester.

On June 3, Whitmer announced a group of 25 “leaders in health care and education” to serve on the COVID-19 Return to Learn Advisory Council.

“This group brings together experts in health care and education, including students, educators and parents, to think about how to ensure the more than 1.5 million K-12 students across Michigan get the education they need and deserve,” Whitmer said in a press release. “On behalf of our kids, their families and the more than 100,000 educators in our state, we must all work together to get this right. I know this group is prepared to carefully examine the data and consult with experts when helping me determine what is best for our kids.”

The advisory council was created to identify the critical issues that must be addressed and provide input on the process of safely and smoothly returning to school, according to the release. The council will act in an advisory capacity to the governor.

For updates on the statewide plan for schools, visit michigan.gov.

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