MENOMINEE — The Menominee Area Public School Board of Education met in a special session Monday to approve the preparedness plans needed to go back to school in the fall.
Grant Chandler of Students Matter, LLC, who has been partnering with the district on a number of projects, helped the district develop plans following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s MI Safe Schools roadmap. He said the roadmap distinguishes six phases of COVID-19 prevalence and details how public schools are to handle instruction based on which phase their area of the state is in. He said the governor’s executive order requires that all school districts have a plan for each phase except for phase 6, which is the post-pandemic phase.
“Even though right now the Upper Peninsula is currently in Phase 5, we have to have all three plans approved, and we have to be ready to implement any one of the three plans at any given moment, given the conditions of the pandemic,” Chandler said.
Chandler said in phases 1-3, which are the phases designated to areas where the virus is spreading rapidly, online instruction is the only allowable form of instruction, and the district is closed. “It will look similar to what it looked like last spring in terms of being closed to everybody else,” he said.
However, there are some significant differences in this plan compared to how school was handled in the spring. One of the major differences is how “online instruction” is defined. Chandler said the new definition of online education includes real-time whole group instruction (teaching a full class at once through video chat), real-time small group instruction and semi-independent classwork that students do remotely at different times. He said a system of schedules was developed in a way that wouldn’t require students and teachers to be sitting in front of a computer screen for eight hours a day.
That’s not good for anybody; it’s not good for students and it’s not good for the adults,” he said.
In addition, attendance is required for all students in every phase. “Last year, students were encouraged but there were no penalties if students didn’t want to do any of the work or participate; that is no longer the case. It is expected that, regardless of what phase we are in, we are providing robust instruction just as if we were in person. So it’s now high-stakes whether we’re online or in person,” Chandler said.
As far as technology, Chandler said the district is working to have Chromebooks for each student in the district, and will be implementing a jump drive system for students who don’t have internet. “We’ll be able to provide better resources for students, and it’ll be much easier for teachers to plan for instruction of our students who don’t have internet connectivity. They’ll be able to exchange jump drives, which are like portable hard drives, rather than paper and pencil packets, which we will eliminate,” he said.
“The flash drive is really a game-changer,” Superintendent John Mans said. “They’ll have the teacher’s lessons, everything they would see in the Google Classroom can all come on that flash drive.”
He said the district does have a decent handle on how many students don’t have internet access, and by the time school starts he said they should know nearly exactly how many students are without internet.
The plan for phase 4 includes the possibility of in-person learning with several safety requirements in place. Masks will be required both at school and on busses for both staff and students, except when eating or drinking. Chandler said there would also be hand sanitizer in every area of the building, as well as scheduled soap-and-water hand washings every few hours. “There will be times throughout the day when students and staff will be required to leave their classrooms and conduct hand washings,” he said.
Chandler said a lot of conversation revolved around movement and spacing to keep students and staff out of close contact — getting within six feet of someone else for more than 15 minutes — as often as possible. This would include clear separation markers in the hallways and protocols for students entering the buildings, as well as eating during breakfast and lunch. He said lunches would be eaten in classrooms at the elementary level, and spacing out the lunch room and using part of the gym for junior high and high school students.
The plan for phase 5, Chandler said, is similar in many ways to phase four, with several notable exceptions. He said scheduled hand-washings would be eliminated, lunches at all levels would return to the cafeteria while using physical distancing guidelines, elementary level recess would resume with scheduled playground equipment cleaning twice per week, gatherings with protocols adhering to any executive orders would be allowed, field trips with proper protective equipment and distancing protocols would be permitted, outdoor athletic events would allow for up to 250 attendees following proper protocols, and the weight room would be reopened, again following proper protocols.
Mans said the district would be offering a choice for students to either return in person, fully online or with a blended model that combines the two. He said a letter and a survey were sent out in July asking for their preferred model which was to be completed by July 28, and said a considerable number of responses have been received so far.
The board voted unanimously to approve the plans. According to Mans, the full details of the plans for each phase for returning to school will likely be posted on the district’s website this week.