Mason families face difficult decision on education for fall

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On July 8, Mason Public Schools announced its hybrid learning program for the upcoming school year, Bulldog Academy. Students and their parents will have the opportunity to choose between online learning or in-person learning with social distancing restrictions.

School COVID restrictions

The families of Mason had until Aug. 1 to make a decision about Bulldog Academy. According to the Ingham County Intermediate School District (ISD) office spokesperson, Mason will make decisions about the online curriculum and requirements for social distancing once the results for Bulldog Academy come in.

Sara Parkinson, the communications director for the Ingham County ISD, said the decision-makers are meeting daily to make sure that Mason has a safe return to in-person schooling.

“We have war meetings that are hours long each day,” said Parkinson. “We are going over every possible scenario to make sure that we are ready for whatever comes our way.” 

Within the schools itself, Mason is working to implement numerous safety and social distancing strategies to ensure the safety of the students. Parkinson said that communal drinking fountains will be shut down, there will be a reduced size lunch period with individually wrapped lunches for students, as well as social distancing within classrooms.

Lance Delbridge, the principal of Mason High School, said he believes that Mason is in a good spot to have a successful school year.

“I think we’ve done the right things to be ready to come back,” said Delbridge. “We are ready for whatever happens at MHS and will follow the guidance of the State of Michigan.”

Parkinson said that the ISD expects a considerable amount of students will choose Bulldog Academy next year.

“Some students enjoyed online learning while others struggled with it,” said Parkinson. “This is a rare opportunity where students can choose what they want.”

Parkinson and Delbridge both said that Mason has no way of knowing how many students will choose the online alternative but are prepared for whatever amount is online. Parkinson said that the ISD is prepared to make additional hires for larger teaching staff and technical department to help with the difficulties of online learning.

“Mason has been transparent from the start and made it clear that they want the students to be safe,” said Sarah Wright, a parent of a high school Mason student. “I want Sophie to go back to school in the fall, and I feel safe sending her to Mason for the time being.”

Inside the schools, Delbridge said the staff will have to work almost twice as much to make sure the learning environment is safe.

“I think next year will be one of the toughest years on our teaching staff,” said Delbridge.

“They will have to adapt their teaching plan to meet the needs of social distancing as well as online learning, and they have to spend the extra time making sure their room is clean and safe for students.”

Wright said that she is skeptical of the chances of an in-person school year that lasts the entire regular school year but thinks that it’s a better option than online learning regardless.

“I saw the schoolwork that Sophie did while she was doing online learning in the spring,” said Wright. “That was not a real school and I think she will fall behind if she decides to do another year of online learning.”

Another concern that has been voiced by parents in the process of announcing Bulldog Academy is the ability to move between online and in-person learning. So far, Mason does not have a set policy on this and will wait for the final results of the survey that was sent out.

“We have not made a final decision about what we are doing quite yet,” said Parkinson. “We have talked about it at length, however, and believe that giving students who chose in-person classes originally to switch to online learning during the year if they want to make the switch. I do not think we will let online students switch to in-person once the year starts, however.”

The final say for the school year does not rest in the hands of Delbridge or any of the members at the ISD. They have to wait on the State of Michigan to give further information regarding public schools for the fall.

“We are at the mercy of the state right now, so we are just playing a waiting game at this point,” said Delbridge. “We are waiting for the government to tell us what to do next. Until then, we are just getting ready for whatever we can.”

Within the actual curriculum in high school, Delbridge said he does not expect many drastic changes as a result of social distancing.

“Our gym classes will have little to no contact sports, but other than that it should remain relatively similar, said Delbridge. “It is going to be very hard to enforce the mask rule within the classrooms and hallways. I think that will be one of the biggest challenges we will face as administrators within the next school year, especially at younger grades where the students don’t necessarily understand the importance of a mask.”

Parkinson said that the ISD has been in constant contact with the State of Michigan to make sure that the rules within each school is correct under the State’s guidelines. She said things will continue to change as we approach the school year, and parents need to check their emails and communicate the changes with their children.

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