Whitmer okays reopening schools, Farmington looks at models

Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday announced Michigan students may return to in-person classes, just hours after Farmington Public Schools Supt. Dr. Bob Herrera spoke with trustees about the district’s planning process for the 2020-21 school year.

Whitmer said she will release an executive order and “Michigan’s Return to School Roadmap,” which will detail opening requirements, including strict safety measures, on June 30.

“Our students and educators have made incredible sacrifices these past few months to protect themselves and their families from the spread of COVID-19,” Whitmer said in a press release. “Thanks to our aggressive action against this virus, those who have done their part to flatten the curve, and the heroes on the front lines, I am optimistic that we will return to in-person learning in the fall.”

“The most important thing we can do when developing a return to school plan is closely examine the data and remain vigilant in our steps to fight this virus,” Chief Deputy for Health and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said. “This is a big step, and we will remain flexible to protect everyone who steps foot in a Michigan school.”

Teams, surveys

Flexibility is also a key aspect of the Farmington Public Schools approach. Teams working separately in the areas of governance, instruction, wellness, technology, post-secondary concerns for seniors, school operations, and facilities will together create a plan that puts health, safety, and wellness factors first, Herrera said.

In addition, surveys have gone out to staff members and parents at the elementary and secondary levels, giving them an opportunity to weigh in about what the 2020-2021 school year will look like.

“We’ll put all questions on the table… as we consider one model over another,” Herrera said. “I think we’ve taken a pretty comprehensive approach to it. Some of the questions are going to be difficult to answer.”

The model presented Tuesday, Herrera said, is patterned after one in Georgia. It draws a parallel to Whitmer’s phased re-opening plan for the state, with distance/remote learning, then limited use of school buildings, limited/staggered use of school buildings, school buildings open, and traditional schooling.

The hybrid model would have only a portion of students in buildings, perhaps scheduled by days of the week or learning needs and age.

Returning to traditional learning – getting back to normal, so to speak – would require designing spaces to allow for social distancing, revamping transportation, health and safety checks, planning for a possible return to remote learning with a virus spike, and training for families, students, and staff, Herrera said.

In addition, he said, the district will soon open a virtual K-12 school, “fully remote, fully virtual”, as an option for parents who are not comfortable with their children returning to school. The school would operate within a curriculum purchased by the district, and students could transition back to traditional classes.

View the 2020-2021 learning plan under the “Transitioning Back to School Update” here: meetings.boardbook.org/Public/Organization/1087.

State roadmap

Herrera said the district’s plan, once developed, would be submitted for approval to Oakland Schools.

The state Roadmap will set minimum health and safety requirements for traditional public, charter, private, and parochial schools. Schools can do more if they choose.

On June 3, the governor announced a group of 25 leaders in health care and education will serve on the COVID-19 Return to Learn Advisory Council chaired by Tonya Allen, President and CEO of the Skillman Foundation. It includes community members, educators, parents, and students who will work closely with the governor.

“Our number one goal on this advisory council is the health and safety of our students and educators,” Allen said. “We will remain vigilant and flexible and closely examine the data as we continue to make recommendations to the governor.”