While none of them seemed happy about it, Farmington Public Schools trustees on Tuesday approved a hybrid plan that will have elementary students in school for half-days beginning November 9.
The final vote split 4-3, with board president Pam Green, vice president Terry Johnson, and trustees Richard Mukamal and Jessica Cummings in favor, and treasurer Terri Weems, secretary Angie Smith, and trustee Zach Rich opposed. Opinions ranged from Johnson asking why students couldn’t be fully in-person to Rich saying he isn’t yet comfortable with students in classrooms.
Along with all Michigan districts, Farmington Public Schools moved to remote learning in March, to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In August, trustees decided students would also start the 2020-2021 school year at home, at least until October 30.
On September 23, trustees reviewed plans that targeted a November 9 return date for elementary students, and a January 25 date for 6-12 grades. However, officials also talked on Tuesday about bringing secondary students back on November 30.
A/B versus AM/PM
During a marathon 6-hour meeting, officials reviewed a presentation covered by Assistant Superintendent of Innovation and Strategic Initiatives Kelly Coffin, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Margaret Hendrickson, and Director of Facilities Management Felicia Venable.
The A/B option would have students divided into two groups, each having two days of in-person learning (Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday), and three days of learning at home. Buildings would undergo deep cleaning on Fridays.
The AM/PM option also divides students into two groups, with half attending in the morning and half in the afternoon, with four or five in-person days each week. Custodians would have 90 minutes to clean classrooms between sessions.
Hendrickson said the A/B option would require teachers to plan for in-person learning, full days of remote work, and virtual learning. That prompted work teams to look at the AM/PM model.
Consistency, less screen time
With more days of in-person learning, teachers would focus on introducing new material each morning, with students receiving reinforcement and “specials” instruction, like art and music, in the afternoon.
Hendrickson said the remote learning tasks would be very different from what parents and students are seeing now, “because a lot of instruction has occurred in person.”
“Right now, they have to be heavily involved with their child throughout the day,” she said. “It’ll feel certainly a lot less burdensome on our families.”
Having students in class for a half-day addresses parent and teacher concerns about screen time and creates some consistency during the week, she said. Additional advantages include reduced planning time for teachers and not having to manage lunch and recess.
Both scenarios offer families the option of staying fully remote, provide kids with a breakfast/snack and lunch, and include strict safety and cleaning protocols. Both also create child care challenges for parents who work. The district plans to expand its partnership with the Farmington Family YMCA and offer Y-Care, a fee-based program, at all elementary buildings, Coffin said.
Cleaning, safety protocols
Venable said custodians will clean frequently touched surfaces twice a day, and use sanitizing equipment in classrooms. She said during a test on Tuesday, a new electrostatic machine disinfected a classroom in about 30 seconds.
Plexiglass shields that are mobile will allow teachers to safely work with small groups. The district is also looking into protective barriers for students that could be decorated, she said.
Students will be required to wear masks and wash their hands every two hours. Hendrickson said other districts with in-person learning have found “students get normed into hand-washing, sanitizing, masking.”
Even with social distancing, she added, “Students will still get interaction and not feel like everyone’s spread out and stuck in one space the whole time. It will look different, but we still have benefits of in -person learning.”
Though he ultimately supported the AM/PM plan, Johnson said his biggest problem with the hybrid model lies with Our Lady of Sorrows school, located across the street from the district’s administration building. Students at the private, K-8 school started the year with in-person instruction.
“This has nothing to do with the work you folks have done,” he said. “My struggle is that I see a school that is literally busting at the seams. Whatever they’re doing, it’s working. Are they smarter than us? Are their teachers more dedicated than ours? What is it that they’re doing?”
Superintendent Bob Herrera said administrators developed a plan based on Board of Trustees decisions, which prioritized adherence to “highly recommended” strategies in the “Michigan Safe Schools Roadmap” developed by a state-wide advisory council.
“Over the summer, the board made clear the mitigation strategies that were non-negotiable for you,” he said. “We put together the best models we could. I don’t think it’s a matter of working smarter than us, it’s matter of working under different constraints.”
Weems said she’d like to see a more targeted plan that paired students who want remote learning with teachers who want to teach remotely, “but this is where we are.”
“Both options are flawed, in my opinion… Remote is subpar, two days a week is subpar, two hours a day is subpar,” she said.
Cummings said that as an FPS parent, she understood the challenges of both options. She supported the AM/PM model because it provides students with more in-person instruction.
Trustee Rich was not ready to consider any in-person options. Later in the meeting, he said he didn’t want to go to a graduation down the road and see on the program a student’s name with an asterisk, indicating the student had passed away.
“I don’t feel it’s safe to go back to school,” he said.
Watch the Board of Education meeting here: farmington.vod.castus.tv/vod/?video=655e6f61-02ed-47fa-9547-949a332bf9ea.
View the full presentation here: farmington.k12.mi.us/moving-forward-learning.
Correction and Clarification: The first name of trustee Terri Weems was incorrectly spelled in the original version of this post. In addition, the first sentence has been reworded to clarify that none of the trustees were happy about the choices they faced.