Though Farmington Public Schools trustees last month affirmed a January 11 in-person learning plan for pre-K, elementary, and special education students, some teachers and parents said Tuesday that’s still too soon.
Trustees added the district’s Return to Learning plan to their January 5 remote meeting agenda after listening to more than 90 parents, teachers, and support staff members weigh in during public comment. Most asked officials to delay the in-person start, but some parents pleaded with them to bring kids back.
Following a review of current data and the district’s COVID-19 mitigation plan, trustees took no action, effectively leaving January 11 start in place. Secondary students are slated to return on January 25.
Students have been in remote learning since the last three months of the 2019-2020 school year. K-5 students were set to return November 9. Though some special education and pre-K students were in buildings by then, a jump in Oakland County infection rates moved everyone back.
More time needed; students suffering
During public comment, parents and teachers reported hearing about families who had traveled and attended large gatherings during the holiday.
“We’ll be going back before they are able to quarantine for two weeks, and we’ll be going back before the vaccine has been distributed,” said Katie Cannon, a teacher who said she is high risk.
Dana Cohen, a parent and hospital-based pediatric psychologist, said safety metrics have “improved dramatically” and are expected to continue on that path as the vaccine rolls out. She described the consequences of another delay as “immeasurable.”
“There is now widespread agreement on both sides of the aisle from public health experts that in person schooling can and should be offered with safety mitigation in place,” she said.
Epidemiology professor Beverly Mihalko, a Farmington Hills resident, said Oakland County’s seven-day average of cases has increased slightly, and the majority of nine school outbreaks happened in preschools and elementary schools. She said not enough time has passed since the holiday season to know whether the downward trend in numbers will continue.
While some parents said virtual learning works for their kids, others called it a “complete failure.” A former Forest Elementary school parent said her child suffered with remote learning.
“Teachers are in no greater danger than they are on a trip to the supermarket,” she said. “Please open our schools and stop pandering to teachers unions.”
‘Option A, B, C, and D for every situation’
Trustee Terri Weems said the district has “a great mitigation plan in place… I know that it is far more robust than any other plan in surrounding districts. So if surrounding districts have been able to successfully have kids in school all day, every day during the week, I’m struggling with why we can’t.”
Assistant Superintendent of Innovation and Strategic Initiatives Kelly Coffin told officials that the district has “option A, B, C, and D for every situation we can think of right now.” That includes everything from Plexiglass barriers for desks and hand sanitizing stations in every classroom, to choosing a snack that minimizes the time students will have their masks off.
With smaller groups of students expected, classrooms will accommodate six feet of social distancing, while other districts have three or four feet, Coffin said. The district has also upgraded its air filtration system and has portable systems for every classroom.
Custodians at each building will clean classrooms with electrostatic machines between morning and afternoon sessions, and sanitize at the end of the day. They will also wipe down touch points at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., Coffin said. Deep cleaning will also happen on Fridays, when all students are remote.
Weems acknowledged the balance between missing out on in-person learning for kids who really need it and the health risk.
New trustee Claudia Heinrich said the district had wheels in motion for a January 11 start date.
“You have everything ready to go. It’s just taking that leap of faith, I guess,” she said.
Cheryl Blau, also new to the board, was initially reluctant to move forward, but was “beyond impressed” with the district’s mitigation plan. “I feel very confident with what you have in place.”
Board president Zach Rich and trustee Angie Smith expressed safety concerns, but no one made a motion to delay the Return to Learning plan.
Watch the full discussion: