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St. Clair Shores schools pause in-person learning

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published November 24, 2020

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After following orders by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to end in-person instruction for high school students for three weeks ending Dec. 9, local school districts took action to extend the “pause” to younger students, as well.

South Lake Schools Board of Education voted Nov. 18 to have all students go virtual for the week following Thanksgiving, Nov. 30-Dec. 4. In addition, Vice President Robert Penn made an additional motion for students to remain online through Dec. 18, taking the period of remote instruction to the beginning of the holiday break that runs from Dec. 21 through Jan. 1. From Dec. 7-18, however, prekindergarten and special education classes and services are allowed to provide in-person instruction.

In a letter to parents on the district’s website, Superintendent Ted VonHiltmayer thanked parents and the community for partnering with the district during this time.

“We highly recommend following the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines over the holiday season because practicing a few simple precautions will reduce risk to your family and others,” he wrote. 

“As our families come together to celebrate the holiday season, let us also come together as a community to ensure each other’s safety. Encouraging family members to take personal safety steps will help keep them healthy while also improving the health of our schools and community.  These simple precautions will also help us bring all students back to in-person instruction.”

The South Lake Board of Education said it would consider in-person learning for the future at its next regular meeting, scheduled for Dec. 16.

Lake Shore Public Schools Board of Education likewise voted Nov. 23 to suspend in-person instruction for the week following the Thanksgiving holiday, Dec. 1-4. 

Lake Shore Superintendent Joseph DiPonio said the district had had 46 confirmed cases since the week of Halloween and 180 quarantines during the same period. However, they believe only one case occurred from transmission at school. 

“We’re not seeing significant illness, however, the quarantines are an issue for staffing,” he said. “(We are) making a recommendation to pause learning for a week (after Thanksgiving) so that any cases that might arise over the extended holiday weekend, the vast majority will present themselves before we return. The vast majority of cases present themselves between four and seven days of exposure within Macomb County.”

DiPonio explained to the board that it seems staff and students are taking proper precautions while at school, but “when people get outside that environment, they’re letting their guard down a little bit and this is when cases start to pop up.”

Hybrid students in the district are already virtual on Mondays, so the change will only affect elementary students on Tuesday, Dec. 1 through Thursday, Dec. 3, as they already had Dec. 4 off for a teacher records day. Kennedy Middle School students will also have remote instruction on Dec. 4. 

“We are fully aware that there are members of the community that are of different opinions on what is either best or appropriate or desired, (but) part of our goal, from the beginning ... is to maximize our total instructional time through the whole year, and so we have done an excellent job, in my opinion, in containment of cases,” said Lake Shore Board President Sharon Bartl.

DiPonio said Lake Shore administration will evaluate the situation to determine if a further extension of remote learning time is necessary before students return for in-person learning.

Lakeview Public Schools students began fully remote instruction Nov. 23 after the Board of Education voted Nov. 17 to shift all kindergarten-12th grade students to a remote schedule through at least Dec. 11. The Early Childhood Center was set to stay open and operate normally during the same period.

Superintendent Karl Paulson said the decision was made after considering Macomb County and local infection data, the staff and students in quarantine, and the disruption to families and children’s education. The decision will be reviewed at the next board meeting, which has been moved to Dec. 8, “so that parents would have that week’s notice if we were going back to school or even if we’re not.”

Making the change is not easy for staff or students, he said. 

“It is very different and there’s different difficulty when you’re in person and you have all the masks and sanitizing hands ... Now you jump from that to, we’re going to be recording a lot of things and video links and learning how to use the system in such a way that it doesn’t get ‘Zoom-bombed,’” Paulson said, explaining that a lot of staff instruction time has been spent on teaching teachers how to use the available technology. 

Teachers are working harder now than ever before, he said. 

“They’re working in the evening hours, on the weekends, trying to get the follow-ups because they’re committed,” he said. 

Parents say they understand, but hope that as much in-person instruction as possible can occur.

Lake Shore Public Schools parent James Jackson told the Board of Education that his 7-year-old is having trouble with online learning.

“It’s really hard to find the time to sit down (and) give him the attention he is asking for” while caring for other small children, he said. 

On the other hand, Jackson said his son does well when learning in-person from his teacher at Violet Elementary. While he understood taking the “pause” the week after Thanksgiving, he said he hoped students would be able to get back to class as soon as possible.

“It is my fear that if we do stop going in person that we will lose out on that,” he said. “Students across the country are really losing out on the education they deserve and need.”

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