STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. – Warren Consolidated Schools are finalizing plans to return to in person and hybrid learning. Safety precautions have been put into place to help the transition go smoothly.
The school board has met regularly. These meetings are where safety protocols and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines have been discussed and implemented into their plans for this change.
Covid-19 has been running its course since last March. Worldwide there have been a reported 107 million cases and 2.33 million deaths. As a nation the United States has battled more 26.94 million cases and suffered about half a million deaths.
In Michigan, there have been 622,000 cases and 15,854 deaths. In the month of January in Michigan, out of 6,109 positive cases of COVID-19 there were 175 deaths, and so far in the month of February there have been 645 positive cases and 11 deaths. The last two months have had the lowest amount of positive cases since October 2021.
As the numbers of COVID-19 cases seem to stabilize and people yearn for a sense of normalcy, officials decided that the return to in-person instruction for the district’s 26 buildings and 13,673 students would be appropriate at this time. The state of Michigan has also urged districts to return to some kind of in person learning by March. The plans from WCS are clear for parents and allow students to get back to a more traditional way of schooling that students are used to, with some modifications.
Michelle Pierce, a parent with two high school seniors and one seventh grader in Warren Consolidated Schools, is relieved at the news of returning in person.
“We are all ready to go back to school,” said Pierce. “I feel the kids were doing less assignments and having to learn more on their own when things were online. I think the kids need to be in school for their mental health and success.”
The school board decided after the fall semester that parents and students could make the decision between in-person, online or hybrid instruction. However, once parents made a decision it can not be changed due to trying to keep class sizes small to follow COVID-19 guidelines.
Many parents seem eager to have their children return and are confident in the district’s abilities to provide a safe environment, in fact, 48% of parents chose to have their student return for in-person instruction.
Elementary students grades kindergarten through second grade including Early Childhood Special Education were the first group to return to in-person instruction on Feb. 1, 2021. The following grades third through fifth returned on Feb. 8, 2021.
The district plans to start elementary students with half days due to challenges with cafeteria space, mask fatigue from wearing masks for hours which causes shortness of breath, and minimizing asynchronous times.
Students in sixth and ninth grade went back to school on the 8th if they selected the in-person or hybrid option. Finally on the Feb. 22, 2021 middle and high school students grades sixth through 12th will all return to school for in-person or hybrid.
Members of the school board created this timeline as a safe way to try and phase in face-to-face instruction for the students benefit. Bob Callender, the Union President, that represents teachers has been working with members of the board to make sure things go according to plan.
“We want the kids to have a normal school experience, but in a pandemic it can’t look normal. The district is trying to make an effort towards what school typically is, and they are trying to do it safely,” said Callender.
In addition to phasing different student groups in at separate times, the WCS district also plans to follow a lengthy list of precautions to keep students safe.
The schools are not allowing locker usage and will require students to carry their backpack and all other personal items from class to class. The district planned this to prevent surface spreading and avoid gatherings in the hallway. Students will also be given disinfectant wipes and gloves upon arrival to each room.
District officials are expecting students to self-screen at home and will not require temperature checks unless the student is showing symptoms or participating in athletic or band activities. Masks will be required for anyone in the building and they are even assigning dropoff and pickup times for parents to ensure there is no overcrowding.
Melissa Malavoti, a 7th and 8th grade middle school teacher, says she is confident in the district’s safety measures and procedures.
“I am happy they are returning,” Malavolti said. “They have been struggling compared to the surrounding districts in bringing kids back. Many can get an education online but many need the face to face interaction, especially at the elementary level it’s crucial. I am not looking forward to being the mask police or social distance enforcer. It’s a new normal we all have to get used to”
The Macomb County Health Department will be notified if there are any positive tests reported within the district. According to the return to in-person learning plan posted by the district, the administrators hope that with all these different measures, members of WCS can prevent themselves and others from coming in contact with the virus and if they do, prevent it from spreading to others.
The return to in-person instruction brings a new set of challenges to teachers. With families having the option between in-person, online, or hybrid instruction that means much more planning on the teacher’s part.
Warren Consolidated plans to keep students with their previously assigned teachers from first semester if possible. However some circumstances might make a teacher change necessary. Also, special services like speech classes will have to be agreed upon by the service providers and child’s parents or guardians due to time constraints regarding the demand for these services and the amount of specialists available.
District Superintendent Dr. Robert Livernois says he is confident in the district’s plans and feels this will help students not only scholastically but mentally.“I believe it will have a positive effect on students’ social and emotional well-being to re-engage with their teachers and classmates,” Livernois said. “Social isolation affects students’ ability to focus on their learning.”