When will Michigan K-12 schools return to normal?

Empty classroom covid-19
Posted at 6:22 AM, Jan 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-06 06:22:08-05

If you're wondering when your child's school day will "get back to normal," you may be waiting a while.

Though health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have shared some optimism recently about schools amid the pandemic, there's still a lot in flux, and it's too early to give the blanket green light most of us are hoping for: the day when all students are back in the classroom as it was pre-pandemic.

That likely might not happen until spring or even later as vaccine roll-outs continue around the country, albeit slowly.

Michigan high school students were allowed to return to in-person learning on Dec. 21 under updated MDHHS guidelines following a brief switch to remote learning during what Gov. Whitmer called "a three-week pause" to get case numbers under control. But with winter break, many districts are only now resuming high school classes this week.

In Michigan, each school district is able to decide its own learning plan during the pandemic, as long as the state remains in reopening Phase 4 or higher. Phases 1-3 would require all schools to move to remote learning

“In Macomb County, the 21 superintendents, we meet regularly. We meet once a week with the health department," said Fraser Public Schools Superintendent Carrie Wozniak.

Fraser resumed classes Monday after the holiday break and is still currently working under a hybrid model. Middle and high school students start their second semester on Jan. 25 when schedules will again adjust for either face-to-face or online learning based on a family's pre-selected preference.

Of the 2,4000 elementary students in the district, 650 are learning online while most are back in the classroom.

“It took a lot of preparation to get things ready to open up those doors to have kids back in school," said Wozniak. "And I think that’s important for parents to understand."

All students in the Fraser district have access to a device for online learning, something available to them even back in March when the pandemic first started, and something Wozniak said she was grateful for.

Hamtramck Schools has also been able to provide each district family with at least one device for online learning, starting this summer and fall, a major feat given the poverty in the district, said Superintendent Jaleelah Ahmed. The district also provided families with hot spots for families without internet connectivity.

The district began the school year virtually in September, but it offered in-person services for students with the greatest needs, such as those learning English as a second language.

"It was running smoothly, and we had to pause with the in-person for the students with the greatest needs due to the increased rates and cases that had occurred," Ahmed said of the shift back to fully remote learning the last week of October.

"We're looking and studying the cases, the risk level. Currently, we are still at a high-risk level," she said. "We do not want to disrupt the learning for our students and our families. We don't want to go back to in-person just to go back to virtual."

Ahmed expects the pandemic will have an impact on student performance in standardized testing.

“We are looking at students lagging in the areas of math and reading. We are foreseeing that we are going to have a COVID gap," she said, something the district saw in the summer. Ahmed feels teachers should be spending every moment they have on instruction time as opposed to prep for standardized assessments. She feels such assessments should be postponed due to the pandemic.

In Oakland County, K-12 in the Troy School District is also fully remote. High schoolers are not set to return to in-person learning until at least Jan. 25 due to exams scheduled the week prior, which students will take virtually.

Back in October when cases were ticking upward, the district faced staffing issues, said Superintendent Dr. Rich Machesky. “We had a high number of staff and students that had to be quarantined at any given period, of which put a huge strain on our ability to cover classrooms." He said the district is now more prepared to address staffing issues.

Another concern he has -- and one echoed by other superintendents -- is consistency, regardless of where students are learning.

“It’s not good for anyone to have to start and stop.”