COVID-19 spike prompts some schools to delay in-person learning
Recent events have reminded Saline Area Schools Superintendent Scot Graden that encouraging metrics surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic one week, doesn’t mean they’ll stay that way.
Saline had hoped to bring elementary school students back for more frequent in-person classes the week of Oct. 19, after recently transitioning into a hybrid learning format. A surge in coronavirus cases driven by outbreaks on the University of Michigan campus, however, caused the district to take a step back.
“It’s not something where the community numbers would knock us out of the hybrid at this point, but as far as moving forward with our interest of bringing in more students for in-person instruction, it has really put us in a spot to hit the pause button,” Graden said.
Saline isn’t the only school district in the state hitting the pause button on in-person learning as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
Twenty-eight Michigan counties have a coronavirus test positivity rate of more than 5%, with 73 of the state’s 83 counties reported week-over-week increases in cases. The World Health Organization says it’s OK to reopen schools if their county’s positivity rate is below 5%.
If COVID-19 data heads in a more positive direction early the week of Oct. 26, Saline will look to begin four days a week of in-person learning for young fives through fifth grade students as early as Nov. 4, Graden said. Students in sixth through 12th grades, on the other hand, still will have to wait at least through Nov. 24 before returning to the classroom in-person, Graden said.
Other districts that began the year with remote learning are facing the similar challenge in determining when it’s safe to bring students back for in-person classes.
Baldwin Community Schools (Lake County)
After starting the year with remoting learning on Aug. 24, the Baldwin School Board voted to extend remote learning until at least Jan. 15.
The district would like to be in face-to-face learning, Superintendent Rick Heitmeyer said, but COVID-19 cases in Lake County increasing 40%, from 40 to 55 cases, in the past week is a concern.
“We are watching the COVID-19 numbers not only in Lake County, but in nearby counties, go up,” Heitmeyer said. “We are seeing many schools have to cancel classes for a day, two days, or two weeks. We believe the frequent starts and stops will be less effective for students than continuing in a remote environment.”
Dexter Community Schools (Washtenaw County)
After starting the year fully online, Dexter Community Schools began bringing in its young fives through sixth grade students back in person on Oct. 8 at 50% capacity on alternating days.
Potential staffing shortages and the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in the county, however, have forced the district to reevaluate bringing back students at full capacity.
“When we were ready to announce phasing back in at middle and high school, the number of county cases skyrocketed,” Superintendent Chris Timmis said. “We’re reevaluating and watching closely the data on cases in our schools community, the Dexter community and the county.”
Grand Ledge Public Schools (Eaton County)
After approving plans to start the year with remote learning through Dec. 4, Grand Ledge is still mulling a timeline for returning to in-person classes.
The district recently met with the local health department to evaluate the recent uptick in local and statewide COVID-19 cases, Interim Superintendent David Chapin said. The district will meet Oct. 26, to discuss its next steps toward in-person learning.
A plan won’t be brought to the school board until November, Chapin said.
“There are no plans to bring all students back for full day instruction (before) December,” Chapin said. “Planning is centered on phasing in in-person learning with smaller groups of students in classrooms and, therefore, a smaller group of students in the school on any given day.”
Grand Rapids Public Schools (Kent County)
After starting the year with online-only learning, GRPS opted not to return to the classroom as planned while COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Kent County.
Students will remain virtual through the end of the first semester on Jan. 4, Superintendent Leadriane Roby said. The decision to delay in-person learning came a week before more than 10,000 students were planning to return to the classroom in a hybrid learning model.
“We have said all along that the science and data will drive our decision making,” Roby said. “The data is headed in the wrong direction.”
East Lansing Public Schools (Ingham County)
After initial plans to begin the school year with online instruction until at least Sept. 30, East Lansing Public Schools extended remote learning for all students.
On Oct. 26, the district’s school board will vote on a recommendation to begin bringing kindergarten through fifth grade students back for in-person classes on Jan. 4 – a couple of months later than its initial target of Nov. 16. The district’s recommended plan would keep middle and high school students in online learning until at least Jan. 19.
Farmington Public Schools (Oakland County)
Farmington began the year with fully remote learning with the plan to remain online until at least Oct. 30.
The district voted to begin phasing elementary students back into the classroom earlier this month. But the Farmington School Board voted that middle and high school students will remain in remote learning until at least Jan. 25, after previously considering bringing the students back earlier under a hybrid learning format.
Kalamazoo Public Schools (Kalamazoo County)
Kalamazoo students will remain in virtual mode for the second trimester, which ends in March 2021, Superintendent Rita Raichoudhuri said during a recent school board meeting.
“As I did with the decision in August to have all students start the year in remote learning, I made this decision for trimester 2 with an eye toward safety first,” Raichoudhuri said. “I know this will not please all families and that learning at home can be very difficult.”
Depending on the state of the pandemic, students may return to school full-time, five days a week for the third trimester, which begins March 15, Raichoudhuri said.
Lansing School District (Ingham County)
When Lansing schools opened, district officials said it would be in a remote learning format until further notice. The school board voted unanimously last week to delay the return of students until Jan. 25.
“We are listening to parents, teachers and staff, and while most everyone wants our kids to safely return to in-classroom education as soon as possible, COVID 19 infection rates locally and nationwide are still too high right now,” Superintendent Sam Sinicropi said.
“We don’t want students or staff returning from the holidays and family gatherings and then coming to school buildings with an infection that causes a super spreader event.”
Madison District Public Schools (Oakland County)
After starting the year with all students in online learning, Madison transitioned some pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students back for in-person classes on Oct. 12.
The district’s school board plans to vote Nov. 9 on a plan that would allow students first through fifth grades back into the classroom beginning Nov. 16. A recent spike in Oakland County COVID-19 cases, however, could delay that transition, Superintendent Angel Abdulahad said.
If the board votes no, the district will extend online learning for those students another month.
“My gut feeling, based on the data trending, it looks like we might have to push everything back if cases continue to double,” Abdulahad said. “We don’t want to take chances.”
A return to in-person classes for students in sixth through 12th grades will initially be considered on Dec. 7, Abdulahad said.
Okemos Public Schools (Ingham County)
Okemos students began the school year fully online on Aug. 26. And that’s where they’ll remain under Phase 4 of the MI Safe Start plan.
The district will stay in remote learning until the Lansing region reaches Phase 5 of the plan framework. If and when the region moves to Phase 5, Okemos will establish a three-week transition that takes into consideration vacation and the academic calendar in deciding when to start in-person classes.
Wayne-Westland Community Schools (Wayne County)
Wayne-Westland students began the year in a distance learning format, with plans to remain remote until the end of October.
The district’s school board on Oct. 29 will consider a plan to begin phasing in kindergarten through sixth grade students for in-person classes under a hybrid format. Students in seventh through 12th grades would begin a hybrid schedule on Jan. 19.
“Unfortunately, as much as we think we control the timelines, the pandemic is going to define what the timelines are,” Superintendent John Dignan said.
Ypsilanti Community Schools (Washtenaw County)
While Ypsilanti students began the school year on Sept. 8 with both in-person and virtual classes, just 300 of the district’s 3,800 students are attending face-to-face classes through Nov. 5.
The district has been monitoring local COVID-19 data and is working with various teacher and parent leaders to gather feedback on when a return to in-person classes is feasible, Superintendent Alena Zachery-Ross said.
“We continue to understand that we are in a pandemic learning mode where safety will always come first,” Zachery-Ross said. “These are tough decisions, yet, we are confident that as we work together with our stakeholders, we will make the best possible decision for our community as the time approaches.”
While some districts have hit the pause button on bringing more students back for in-person learning, others throughout the state are holding firm with plans to continue remote learning.
Ann Arbor Public Schools (Washtenaw County)
The state’s fourth largest school district was one of the first in the state to announce it would start the year with fully remote learning. It has held firm on that decision, setting metrics to guide its decision to return to in-person classes.
While AAPS is above its targeted number of COVID-19 cases per 1 million residents, the district’s cases per 100,000 residents and cases in the area are down from its Sept. 30 school board update.
Despite these improvements, district leaders still need to exercise caution before sending students back to the classroom, Superintendent Jeanice Swift said.
“It’s clear to us from all we’re seeing just now that this COVID crisis is far from over,” Swift said.
Flint Community Schools (Genesee County)
Flint expects to remain online until further notice.
The district “will continue to work with state and local health experts to determine when we believe it is safe to bring our students and staff back to school,” Superintendent Anita Steward said.
Muskegon Public Schools (Muskegon County)
Muskegon began the year online, and has stayed in a fully remote learning mode since announcing the decision on July 28.
“I am not confident that we are able to return our students and staff into a safe and healthy environment in our buildings right now,” Cortez said at the time.
The district plans to remain fully remote until at least the end of the semester on Jan. 15.
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