Farmington and Walled Lake school districts consider resuming in-person class in K-5

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On Monday, Governor Whitmer extended the statewide partial shutdown order until December 20, keeping many businesses and public facilities closed for the time being.

However, because elementary schools were not included in this order, many school districts are actively trying to formulate plans to resume in-person classes. In Oakland County, the Walled Lake Consolidated School District and Farmington Public Schools are two districts on opposite ends of the spectrum, with WLCSD planning to transition to in-person learning quickly, while FPS has continuously delayed the return of students due to rising COVID-19 numbers in the community. 

Walled Lake Consolidated Schools

The home of Walled Lake Consolidated Schools,

located at 850 Ladd Rd., Building D., serves as the

meeting place for the Walled Lake Board of Education,

as well as the headquarters for district administrators.

Credit: Lance Limbo

The Walled Lake Consolidated School District returned to in-person learning last month then paused given Whitmer’s orders. The district returned in November, paused and will return this Wednesday. Despite the district K-5 schooling returning Wednesday, Superintendent of WLCSD Kenneth Gutman said at a Board of Education meeting on December 3 he believes  it would be difficult for the district to navigate a way through this pandemic.

“I don’t think there is any win-win in the entire situation, Gutman said. “It’s really an individual issue; I would hate to preclude us from returning students to school because we might have to stop when the reality is we might not.” 

Several parents also spoke up during the meeting, voicing their opinions on the decision to return to in-person learning. One of the parents, Aimee Paige, said children are not a factor in the virus. 

“Children are virtually no risk of transmitting to adults,” Paige said. “The case rates are dropping everyday and children do not contribute to the virus. There is essentially no harm in schools reopening.”

Danielle Ferguson, another WLCSD parent, agreed with Paige, citing family issues as a reason to return to in-person learning. 

“With the amount of different challenges of having a large family it has been impossible for me to adequately provide each of them with what they need for academic success,” Ferguson said.

Farmington Public Schools

The Farmington Public Schools headquarters,

located at 32500 Shiawassee St., serves as the 

primary meeting location for the FPS Board of

Education. Credit: Justin Walsh

Plans to resume in-person learning in elementary schools have been formulated by the Farmington Public Schools Board of Education, but for the time being these plans appear to be tentative in the wake of rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the community. FPS Board of Education President Zach Rich said the Board is unsure of the number of cases the community will be facing in January, when the Board is planning on resuming in-person classes, and this uncertainty prevents them from making any concrete decisions on the matter.

“The big thing is we just don’t know what these numbers are going to look like,” Rich said. “The community spread has been going up and we’re still waiting to see the numbers from Thanksgiving, and then we’ll have to combat the numbers from the holidays.”

Rich continued by saying the district will have to continue delaying the return of in-person classes past the tentative date set by the Board.

“There was the initial thought that we would come back in October, and then we had to push it back and then back again and back again,” Rich said. “From where I’m standing right now, I definitely see us having to push back even further come January.”

Rich is not alone. Many people, including administrators and faculty members, have outlined concerns with the timetable for the district’s plans. In a Board of Education meeting on November 10, FPS Superintendent Robert Herrera said elementary classes should resume in a traditional school setting no earlier than January 11.

“Our position is to pause in-person learning with yet another start date of 1/11 for the K-5,” Herrera said. “Unfortunately, as much as we would like to have the students return, we believe we would be bringing them back only to close again due to workforce shortages, quarantines and positive exposures.”

Many faculty share similar thought processes, echoing that the transition to in-person learning should be postponed. Wood Creek Elementary School teacher Rosheen Hunter said the biggest issue with returning students to classrooms is the lack of consistency that will hurt students and their ability to learn as well as their mental wellbeing.

“We’re all aware of the numbers and statistics currently but our greatest concern is the impact that this transition is going to have on our students,” Hunter said. “Children need some sort of normalcy and consistency now more than ever. Whether they stay remote or go back in-person, they’ll potentially have to adjust to a new teacher, new classmates and/or a new schedule. Those students returning in person will have the added adjustment of a new sense of what school is like because it will look nothing like what it did when they left last spring.”

Hunter continued by talking about the struggles that teachers may face in a situation where they would return to in-person classes, as well as outlining the problems families will face with the uncertain schedule of in-person classes.

“How will teachers have adequate time to plan effective instruction when they’re constantly having to plan both hybrid and fully remote activities just in case something changes? … How can families plan accordingly for childcare when things could change at any second,” Hunter asked.

For photos of the board members from WLCSD and FPS, click here. For stand ups of the reporters outlining the decisions the districts are making, click here and here.

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