After Governor Gretchen Whitmer last week revealed the state’s “Return to School Roadmap”, not much changed for Farmington Public Schools staff planning the 2020-2021 school year.
Dr. Kelly Coffin, new Assistant Superintendent of Innovation and Strategic Initiatives, said teams crafting elements of the plan have been working since May, based on earlier guidance from the state. Michigan schools closed in March to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“Knowing the governor’s plan would follow a certain structure, there weren’t many surprises,” Coffin said.
The Michigan plan, developed by the COVID-19 Task Force on Education Return to School Advisory Council, lays out different scenarios for fall based on geography and COVID-19 infection rates:
- Open for in-person instruction with minimal required safety protocols (MI Safe Start Phase 6).
- Open for in-person instruction with moderate required safety protocols (MI Safe Start Phase 5).
- Open for in-person instruction with more stringent required safety protocols (MI Safe Start Phase 4).
In the state’s current phase, all staff and students in grades 6-12 would be required to wear masks. Younger students would wear masks in common areas and on the bus. Riders would be required to use hand sanitizer before entering the bus.
Also, recommendations include keeping desks six feet apart and having students eat lunch in the classroom or outdoors.
Schools would not re-open if Michigan slips back to Phases 1-3. If that happens, Coffin said the district is looking to support teachers “in a more robust way” with technology, including a Learning Management System that would replace Google Classroom.
Even if buildings re-open, parents uncomfortable with sending their children to school will have the option of a virtual K-12 program. Coffin explained that differs from the last few months of remote learning in that kids will be learning new content and moving forward in line with state standards.
“We are also looking at, if all students who want to come back return, what that might look like,” she said. “We’re really trying to ensure that parents have choice.”
The district is also looking at student access to the internet. Since March, they’ve learned that while a home may have wi-fi, the student may not – because parents are working from home as well. “It’s something we continue to monitor,” Coffin said.
With the first day of school around two months away, Coffin’s biggest concern is “the not knowing… We really want to make sure we have everything in place to ensure the health and safety of students and staff.”
The district will continue to check in with families to gauge their level of comfort about re-opening, Coffin said. She suggests that families have conversations to help students work through their fears and anxiety, and to keep those conversations positive, as kids generally take their cue from adults.
The state requires all districts to have an approved back-to-school plan in place by August 15 and post the plan on their websites by August 17.