Dearborn Public Schools Board of Education voted Monday night (Oct. 12) to extend online learning into November, but set another meeting for Oct 26 to reevaluate conditions.
The approved motion also called for continuing and expanding in-school learning labs where, under current conditions, up to three students at a time come in and meet with teachers. If local COVID conditions stay favorable, those groups will expand up to six students. Learning labs for some special education students started last month and then expanded to every school last week.
Trustees voted 6-1 in favor of the measure. Only Trustee Jim Thorpe dissented, expressing that the district was ready to slowly start bringing students back. Since the September meeting, the average COVID test positivity rate for outer Wayne County has fallen below 5 percent and the average daily cases in Dearborn have declined significantly.
District administration had recommended starting to bring elementary students back in a split model where half of students would be at school at one time. Three options were presented for student attendance including every other day, half days every day, or a shortened day every other day. In each case, students not at school would have done asynchronous work at home. More information about each option is available in the presentation to the board.
The plan included options for starting with preschool through third grade or preschool through fifth grade. Siblings at the same school would attend at the same time.
In all three options, elementary students would have stayed mostly in their classrooms with any special teachers like art or music coming to them. Desks and other touch points would have needed to be sanitized every four hours, or between groups of students.
Maysam Alie-Bazzi, Executive Director of Staff and Student Services and a co-chair of the district’s reopen committee, made the presentation. She also touched on options for starting to return middle and high school students, although probably not until after elementary schools restarted. Secondary students are more difficult to bring back because of the number of students in the buildings and the need to have them switch classes. Each class change will mean students mixing in the hall and the state requirement to wipe every desk. Options for middle and high school include “Zoom in the room” where teachers would simultaneously teach students in the classroom and online.
Monday’s meeting stretched more than five hours, past midnight, as trustees discussed the plans and heard more than 50 public comments submitted online and by residents at the meeting.
Information presented also stressed that students and staff would be expected to wear face masks while at school. Bazzi also told trustees that the district would need two or three weeks to finalize and launch any blended learning model the board adopts. The time would be used to group students, figure out busing, finalize cleaning routines, create teacher schedules, adjust the school meal programs, communicate the changes to parents, and more.
Parents who were not comfortable returning their child to school could ask to have their child moved to the Virtual Learning Program by calling their child’s school and asking to be put on the waiting list. The program will teach students online all year, but elementary students would be required to switch teachers.
Bazzi also noted that entire schools would not close for one or two cases of COVID in the building. Referencing the district’s COVID flyer, she said the district would start by requiring close contacts to quarantine, which might mean whole classrooms temporarily return to online learning. Entire schools would only close if that was the recommendation of the Wayne County Health Department.
Administration had targeted restarting with the youngest students because they struggle the most with online learning. It also is easier in elementary school to follow safety protocols like better social distancing and not allowing different groups of students mix.
“We know online learning is the most difficult for our youngest students and their parents,” said Superintendent Glenn Maleyko. “We continue to work towards the day we can start to bring our students slowly and safely back to school.”