Farmington Public Schools trustees reconfirmed a hybrid learning plan Tuesday, with two dissenting votes.
Students have had the option of in-person instruction since January, after starting the school year fully remote because of COVID-19 pandemic concerns.
In March, trustees voted to relax mitigation measures enough to allow at least 20 hours of in-person instruction. They gave district staff the authority to “pause” in-person learning if necessary.
Farmington area cases began creeping up in early March and have risen from around 160 to over 1,200 recent (past 30 days) cases as tracked by Oakland County. Over a month of more in-person hours, the district has quarantined 650 students and staff, including 16 full classrooms, related to 127 positive cases.
Teachers, trustees concerned
During public comment prior to a 4:30 p.m. closed session, teacher Christopher DeYonke said some in-person secondary classes are fully streaming, because of the large number of students in quarantine.
“A pause on in-person instruction would allow a more consistent instructional delivery model in the interim, as everyone would be remote and the focus would be on instruction, rather than contact tracing,” he said.
While stressing their confidence in staff, trustees Angie Smith and Mable Fox voted against reconfirming the learning plan. Fox said she was “extremely concerned” about increasing numbers. She suggested a two-week in-person pause, which Governor Gretchen Whitmer requested earlier this month, “to bring these numbers down.”
Interim Superintendent Bobbie Hayes Goodrum said the two weeks would have expired this week and only applied to high school students.
“The places where we’re transitioning the most number of students to remote has been elementary and middle school,” she added.
Where transmission happens
Goodrum said while it’s not possible to know exactly where transmission happens, when two or more students in a classroom test positive, staff quarantines the classroom. With closer contact, she said, “we have had cases where we did determine it was probable school spread.”
Around the time of the governor’s recommendation, she said, the Oakland County Health Division advised school district leaders that “schools are still the safest places for children.”
Later in the meeting, Goodrum shared information about the district’s positivity rate based on athletic testing. Of the 747 COVID tests completed last week, three were positive, she said.
Comfortable with staff decision-making
Smith called the number of students being quarantined “unbelievable”.
“Another neighboring community lost a 15-year-old child,” she said. “My fear is, we will be in that situation… I don’t feel comfortable with students being in school.”
Board president Terri Weems said trustees knew reduced social distancing would lead to more quarantines. She described the increase in cases as “alarming”, but said she was comfortable leaving decisions to staff.
“I feel that even though we’re uncomfortable with what is going on in the world and with the state… you are doing the job that we entrusted you to do,” trustee Claudia Heinrich said.
Listen to the full conversation, which starts around the 57:50 mark: