By Carolyn Marnon – If there is one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it’s how important our teachers are. As parents across the country wait for information on what returning to school in the fall looks like, new Wayne Westland Community Schools Superintendent John Dignan has addressed concerns for local families with the Return to Learn program.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer came out with MI Safe Schools: Michigan’s 2020-21 Return to School Roadmap on June 30. The report outlines protocols for safe schooling throughout the six different phases of the pandemic (see sidebar).
Dr. Dignan provided a power point presentation showing that Wayne County Community Health Department, the Centers for Disease Control, and the State of Michigan executive orders all regulate what the school district does.
If Wayne County is in Phases 1-3, WWCSD schools would need to be held with Virtual Instruction. Buildings would not be allowed to open. Instruction would be done by WWCSD teachers in Google Meet classrooms.
Wayne County is, at the time of this writing, in Phase 4. This phase would allow school to be held via Hybrid Instruction. Students would be in school part of the week and undergo remote instruction the other part. The plan calls for dividing students up into two groups, for example students with last names A-K and L-Z. One group would attend school Monday and Tuesday; the other group would attend Thursday and Friday. The online instruction would then be reversed to the other two days. Wednesday is left open for deep cleaning of the schools.
“We’re going to have to build all three plans because we just don’t know what we’re going to encounter during the school year,” said Supt. Dignan. “I think the more we can frontload our plans, the better they’ll be.”
If Wayne County moves to Phase 5 or 6, the traditional school model would prevail. However, there would still be certain safety measures, such as hygiene and physical distancing, along with daily cleaning.
The district has put together reopening committees: transportation, food service, technology, curriculum/instruction, special education, operations, communications, childcare, and social-emotional learning. Some of these committees will have subcommittees. Because buildings throughout the district are different, the logistics of the various plans could be different. The district is working on a baseline for everyone to work off of. The Return to Learn program is not a one-size fits all system.
The Return to Learn program was to be submitted to the WWCSD School Board by July 30. There will be a School Board study session on August 3. The School Board will vote on the plan August 10. Every school board in Michigan must have their district plan approved by August 15. The approved plan has to be turned in to the independent school district, in WWCSD’s case, Wayne RESA by August 17. It’s a fast-moving train trying to hit all the stations before coming to a stop at the final destination on time.
“We are all in this together,” says Supt. Dignan. He wants to hear from students, teachers and families. There will be a dedicated page on the district’s website for Return to Learn information. Updated FAQ’s will try to address concerns. There are plans underway to survey staff, students and parents once a week. Community meetings are scheduled for August 12 at 10:00 a.m., 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. online.
For those who want to forego any uncertainty with the pandemic-based plans, they are welcome to apply for the Online Learning program the district has already had underway. This is a completely separate program and is delivered through a third-party vendor with teachers serving as mentors. If a student enrolls in the Online Learning program and then decides they want to switch back to the “regular” system, perhaps because the pandemic is over, would they be allowed to do so? Supt. Dignan wants to allow that possibility, but it would probably be limited as to when that could happen, such as at the end of a grading period.
There are several concerns about dividing up the students for the Hybrid model of instruction. Teachers do not want to have 20 kids in one set of students and then 7 kids in the other set. They want the numbers balanced between the two groups they will be teaching. Parents are concerned because they want all their children to attend school the same days. It would be a hardship to have a kid go to school on Monday and Tuesday and the other go Thursday and Friday. The District is working to keep family members on the same schedules. They are also trying to keep in mind that some family members have different last names. If Hybrid instruction is used and parents have children that are assigned different days to attend, especially in the case of differing last names, the parent needs to notify the school district so the matter can be resolved.
If learning has to take place at home, there are plans being put in place to get Chromebooks and internet access for families who don’t have them. The school bond measure that was recently passed will allow schools to become hot spots at the end of the year.
Supt. Dignan acknowledges that there are no easy answers to education in our current times. It’s a complicated process, he says, to put together a learning plan. Every issue that you think you are resolving might have several tentacles stretching out that in turn also have to be resolved.
According to WWCSD Communications Director Jenny Johnson, “School will start on September 1 no matter what plan or phase we are in. Parents will receive more detailed information about the school year after August 17. “
With everything going on, the rules and regulations, the uncertainty of it all, Supt. Dignan knows one thing, “We want to err on the side of safety.”