July 28th, 2020
In late June, the Governor's task force released her return to school roadmap for 20/21, districts began planning for potentially three different phases of education for the school year. Alcona Community Schools surveyed families and staff on their thoughts and preferences before starting to draft a plan that had to be built around safety, flexibility for families, and patience for all involved in this very new version of school.
Students, families, and staff were all over the map with what they were comfortable for 20/21. The district has taken the feedback to build a model that takes the State and the Center for Disease Control's guidelines seriously, no matter if they are required, strongly recommended, or recommended. The majority of families wanted a good majority of their instruction face to face. At the same time, 20% requested online for 100% of their student's school year. The school system is in a position to prioritize face to face instruction for the majority of learners while still offering online options for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Phases Defined & Return to School Roadmap
The school system has a plan for each of the phases (three, four, and five) that we likely could deal with navigating the school year. Phase three essentially means schools are closed for face to face instruction, and students would be learning online or through remote learning. Phase four (the current status of Alcona Community Schools operates) allows for face to face learning but with significant restrictions and recommendations. In phase four, the school needs to create distancing for learners and staff and minimize student group mixing. In phase four, masks/face coverings are also required in several areas:
K-12 during transportation
K-12 in common areas or hallways
K-12 staff will wear masks during the day unless eating or drinking
6-12 students will wear masks during the day unless eating or drinking
The mask issue is a particularly polarizing topic. If a student or staff has a verified medical reason, they do not have to wear a mask. While we realize the variety of perspectives on the issue, we must follow the guidance to be able to open schools.
In phase five, the restrictions continue to loosen, and the distancing and spacing guidelines become more forgiving. Students could potentially gather in groups and move more freely through the buildings. We would operate with masks & face-coverings under the same guidelines as phase four.
The recommendations from the state include recommended practices to help keep riders and drivers safe during daily transportation. Sanitizer would be available when students get on and off the bus. As mentioned earlier, masks and face coverings are required for all. Busses will be disinfected after each trip. It's recommended that windows are down when possible to increase air-flow. Depending on the number riding the bus, we will distance students as much as possible.
Students will not eat in the cafeteria in phase four or five. Breakfast will be picked up by students each morning when they enter the building and eaten in their classrooms. At lunchtime, they will travel a class at a time to the cafeteria to grab their meals and eat back in their classrooms. Younger students may have their lunches delivered to their classrooms.
Cleaning & Sanitizing
Classrooms will be sanitized daily. In addition, any time students might rotate or change spaces with other students, rooms would be cleaned. Bathrooms and other common areas will be cleaned frequently during the school day.
Positive Test and Response
If the district has a student or staff member test positive, we will initiate a proactive contact tracing process with the Department of Health Number 2 (DH2) to inform all who may have had contact with the COVID-19 patient. Neither the district nor DH2 will be allowed to share the name of the person who tested positive.
Families that are not comfortable having students attend face to face will have the ability to take online classes through the district while still participating in activities and athletics and potentially graduating as an Alcona student. During the spring closure, the transition to remote and online was difficult. Some families voiced that the work wasn't nearly enough for their children. No matter if you choose the 100% online option or face to face, and we end up in phase three (remote), the work and expectations will be more rigorous during the school year. If families choose the online option, you will have a certified teacher and a local school liaison communicating weekly, if not daily, to confirm that students are working and on track to complete the class. If this option is selected, there are some significant expectations on the parent/guardian's end to support the learner at home. The district will provide a computer and internet (if necessary). All families choosing this option will have an orientation session to attend before starting the school year, so all are comfortable with the expectations and program. To learn more about virtual learning, complete the following short survey at bit.ly/ACS-VirtualLearning and someone from the school will reach out to you.
Daily Screening and Quarantine Room
The district will start the year screening students for COVID-19 symptoms as they enter the building. We hope to eventually have parents screen their children daily with the following questions:
Have you experienced a fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, vomiting/diarrhea in the last 24 hours?
Have you come in close contact with a COVID-19 positive person in the last 14 days?
Have you been told to self-quarantine or isolate by the local health department?
What is your current temperature? If higher than 100.4, stay home.
To keep everyone safe, we are relaxing truancy guidelines so that families keep students home if they are showing any of the symptoms listed above. The focus will be on academic work completion and not necessarily attendance.
Face to Face K-5
The district strived to honor the spacing requirements and wanted to prioritize elementary-aged children as part of our plan. We plan to reassign staff qualified to teach K-5 at the elementary building to lower class sizes. Each teacher will be responsible for teaching all subjects in their classroom (reading, writing, math, science, social studies, physical education, and an experience-based class). Students will not rotate through the building. Class sizes will be between 12 to 20 students.
Face to Face 6th-8th Grade
At the middle school, we will utilize large spaces to teach and learn (cafeteria, double rooms, science labs, former computer labs) to accommodate the distancing requirements. Two teachers will split each grade and specialize in two subjects in which they are highly qualified. Teachers will rotate; students will stay in the same space during learning sessions.
Live Virtual for High School
The high school is the most significant departure from the typical school. There was no way to honor keeping students in one space and not mixing with others due to the complexities of the high school schedule. The district plans to go 100% live virtual for phase four at the high school level. This means that teaching will be live using video conferencing on the daily bell schedule. We plan to take attendance, and students are to tune in each day based on their assigned schedule (which will mirror a normal high school schedule). If we move into phase five, classes will resume face to face. It's important to note that we realize connectivity is a challenge in Alcona County, and any student wanting to attend school daily will be welcome to so they can access the internet and have access to breakfast and lunch. They will not be in the classroom with staff but will be assigned to large spaces so distancing can be adhered to. Students will be monitored by school staff to have the support necessary to ensure their learning is useful.
In order to maintain distancing and class size guidelines and accommodate staffing needs, it will be necessary for all students to take a virtual class and for school to be released an hour early daily. Virtual classes will likely focus on academic support or socio-emotional learning. More details to come on these additional details.
Students Arriving at School
With requirements about mixing students, we will not be able to allow students into the building until fifteen minutes before the start of the school day. In the past, we had students arrive 30-45 minutes before school would start. With safety in mind, we won't be able to allow this to happen.
Possibility for a Delayed Start to the Year
Due to so many staff with new assignments and the complexity of the duties, the district is currently considering options to push back the start of the school year. The goal is to delay the start week at most to ensure we have staff trained and all components in place before the beginning of the school year.
Visitors and Drop-Off/Pick Up
During phase four, parents and guests will only be allowed in the building on a limited basis. We are still working through finalizing our drop-off and pick-up policies and procedures. In phase four, parents will be asked to drop their students at the door and not enter the building with them in the morning. As stated earlier, pick-up procedures are still in the planning process. We will send out more communication when we are ready. There will be more flexibility in phase five.
Selecting and Understanding Options
Beginning the week of August 3rd, the district will begin calling families individually to explain options and help families select a choice for each student to guide our preparations.
Athletics and Extracurriculars
As of today, the state has supported the continued engagement of extracurricular activities. We plan to follow that guidance by allowing students to participate in clubs and activities so long as we can abide by the regulations the state has set for each type of activity. If you have immediate questions, please contact your coach or club leader to discuss the status of the activity.
Questions and Feedback
In next two weeks, the district will be holding two question and answer sessions for families to dig a bit deeper into the requirements for the fall. The first session will be held in the auditorium on 7/30 at 7 pm. The second session will be held on August 5th at 7 pm in the auditorium. Both sessions will also appear on Facebook Live on the District's Facebook Page. Attendance is limited during in-person options to abide by spacing requirements.
Daniel J O’Connor
Alcona Community Schools