Farmington Schools targets dates for in-person learning

Farmington Public Schools officials said Tuesday that they have targeted two potential dates for a return to in-person learning.

Students started the year with remote learning, after Governor Gretchen Whitmer closed buildings in March to slow the spread of COVID-19.

During a Tuesday presentation, Assistant Superintendent of Innovation and Strategic Initiatives Dr. Kelly Coffin said the district’s planning process assumes K-5 students will be back in buildings on November 9, and students in grades 6-12 will be back January 25. She said dates may be moved based on readiness criteria.

The district prioritized returning students in severely disabled and autism spectrum disorder programs, which started on September 8. Preschool students with disabilities will likely go back on September 28 and October 12. All early childhood students will return on September 30 with half-day programming, limited class sizes, and “cohorting”, or keeping students in their classroom groups at all times.

Guidelines and criteria

Criteria for phasing in hybrid face-to-face instruction developed by the district’s Academic Excellence committee, with county health officials and a school nurse, include:

  • Less than 4 percent positive testing rate (currently at 4.1 percent and declining)
  • 30-35 COVID cases per million (currently 53.4)
  • 14 days of decrease or flattening of cases in Oakland County (improving)
  • infection rate of 1.0 or less (currently at .92)

Officials are also looking at cases within the district’s boundaries compared with cases in surrounding school districts. Coffin said the district must work with county officials to determine risk levels by building, a new guideline. 

When they return, students will find classrooms set up for social distancing, and plexiglass barriers in some locations. They’ll continue to use the Canvas Learning Management System, Coffin said. Staff and students will be required to wear face masks at all times, and the district will provide them.

Half-days ‘problematic’

Plans call for groups attending half-days (morning or afternoon) each week, with remote instruction when they’re not in the classroom. The district will continue providing meals and Y-Care through Farmington YMCA, and kids can ride the bus to school. The schedule allows 60-90 minutes for cleaning between groups.

Families will also have the option to continue remote learning.

Trustee Richard Mukamal said he hoped that teams looking at the half-day schedule are taking into account parents who have to work outside the home. “That strikes me as problematic,” he said.

Coffin said building principals thought half days would be the best option for instruction. Other considerations included managing staffing for lunches and cleaning between groups.

“There’s a lot of routines and procedures that we may struggle with on the staffing side,” she said. “That’s something we could go back and consider… I think it’s going to be a struggle we have to recognize.”

Secondary return date questioned

Trustee Terri Weems asked why the district’s decisions were different than others in Oakland County, when everyone received the same guidance. Coffin said the district’s criteria were consistent, and other districts made decisions based on what was best for their communities.

“Guidance keeps changing, and we get new information on a pretty regular basis,” she said. “They’re not saying these are the five things you should look at. They’re saying, we’ll help you, but this is a local decision based on what you’re monitoring.”

The district is surveying elementary school parents to determine whether they’re interested in face-to-face instruction and whether they would need transportation.

Weems, who is the parent of a senior, said she was struggling with the in-person date for secondary students. She raised concerns around equity, social/emotional support, and the challenges for students who have trouble with remote learning.

Assistant Superintendent for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Bobbie Goodrum said the return date was recommended for many reasons, including changes that will reduce the number of students in the halls and ensuring that students meet credit requirements. The district will begin offering social and emotional support services to students in the near future, she added.

Beginning stages of planning

The January 25 date will allow for completely restructuring the schedule, Goodrum said. Planning is in the beginning stages and “we still have to get a lot of input from parents.” Middle and high school students and teachers share buildings, and in-person and current remote schedules must line up.

Goodrum pointed out that the secondary buildings typically house many more students than K-5:  1,500 at Farmington High School, about 1,300 at North Farmington High School, and 500-700 students at each middle school.

“We know that all (students) aren’t going to come back, but we have to make a plan for whatever number of students is able to come back,” she said.

View the presentation here: bit.ly/Phase-InPresentation. Watch the board meeting here: farmington.vod.castus.tv/vod/.

Reported by