While some parents want more face-to-face class time, Farmington Schools officials said Tuesday they plan to stay the course.
All students have had the in-person, hybrid option since last month. Elementary students returned on January 11. They’re split into morning and afternoon groups, in class for 2.5 hours Monday-Thursday. Special education students are in school full days.
Middle and high school students are also split into two groups that attend on alternating days. They have full day, in-person classes Monday-Thursday.
Assistant Superintendent Kelly Coffin said the plan was based on a board request to meet all of the state’s required and strongly recommended mitigation plans.
Increasing class time, she said, would mean relaxing some COVID-19 safety measures. Adults and students would move outside of their assigned groups (or cohorts), and student groups would move between multiple spaces.
While classrooms are now set up with six feet of social distancing, that may not be possible in all buildings and classrooms, Coffin said. Also, if schedules change, some students may have to change teachers.
That concerns Rosheen Hunter, who teaches at Woodcreek Elementary School. She said some kids would be switching for a third time. While teachers are experiencing joy at having kids in school, as well as a sense of pride at their growth and learning, she also described “stress, anxiety, fear, and pure exhaustion”.
“This is not a complaint,” she said. “We’re showing up every day. We’re putting everything aside, and we’re there for our kids. I really think we’re holding it together for the district… We need you to listen to us. Trust us and give us time to figure out what we’re doing.”
Nurse Mary Larsen said the district has seen COVID-19 cases, but none traced back to schools. She supported keeping the status quo.
“I am impressed with how well our schools have done,” she said. “We’re kind of getting into a groove. People are becoming comfortable, and that’s what we want to see.”
Board president Terri Weems asked how that compared with other districts. Larsen said because the district’s mitigation strategies are more intense, Farmington has not had to quarantine as many students and staff as other districts.
Interim superintendent Bobbie Hayes-Goodrum said the majority of emails she gets are from parents who want to know when the district will expand in-person learning.
Parents whose public comments were read during the meeting urged trustees to add more hours, saying their children do better and are happier in-person. They pointed out many districts have already returned full-time, and vaccinations are now available for teachers.
Teachers shared concerns about cleaning and safety protocols and challenges with secondary schedules and planning time. They urged trustees to survey teachers and visit buildings to understand current conditions.
Asked to provide some direction for staff, trustees all favored continuing with the current plan.
“I share the concern that the teachers have expressed around changing the routine for our students yet again,” trustee Cheryl Blau said, adding she also worries about relaxing mitigation standards.
“I think it’s the mitigation strategies that are really protecting our children,” trustee Claudia Heinrich said. “Our children are ineligible for the vaccine, so even if teachers are vaccinated, we need to stay the course with the mitigation strategies.”
The State of Michigan requires districts to re-affirm their learning plans every month, so trustees will discuss this again in March.