The Ingham County Intermediate School District considered the new post-COVID normal as t took up attendance and mask mandates Feb. 15.
Most public schools rely on attendance-based funding. Until now, even throughout the pandemic, schools lose funding when attendance falls below 75%. Since the return to in-person learning, schools across the country have seen attendance fluctuate because of exposure-induced quarantines. This adds to the cost of snow days and threats against schools.
“We need flexibility for our districts,” said Jason Mellema, district superintendent He introduced a motion for the intermediate districts to join the many districts appealing for a relaxation of the 75% attendance minimum. The result was a resolution to be signed and sent to legislators. The board agreed unanimously.
Erin Schor, board secretary, suggested including virtual days to help meet the attendance requirements in the case of quarantines, snow days or other reasons. Mellema noted that for a virtual day to be counted, it has to synchronously equate with a full in-person school day, be signed off by the parent, and show evidence of learning and engagement.
“In-person learning continues to be the best way for our staff to build relationships with students,” said Lanea Martin, director of educator evaluation and instruction. “That’s where the heart is.” That is not to say that nothing has come out of the two years of virtual instruction.
“What we’ve learned in online instruction has improved what we can do in the classroom,” said Martin. The developments made in technology proficiency have increased the talents educators can bring to the in-person classroom.
In light of Ingham County Health Department plans to loosen mask and quarantine mandates, the board took up its own mask mandates.
The board heard the reasons such a change would be safe for Ingham schools. The points included Ingham County’s status as the third-highest vaccination rate for ages 5 to 16, COVID-19 leaving pandemic status, and the high-quality HVAC airflow systems present in buildings managed by the intermediate district. “We’ve always followed the recommendations of the Ingham County Health Department,” said Lori Zajac, board vice president. The health department’s decision to change policy has a large effect on the school board’s reevaluation. Still, some board members expressed hesitation to make major changes, when the nature of the pandemic has seemingly changed weekly for the past two years.
“This is what comes with tying our ship to the winds of the health department,” said Mellema. Changing policies are a part of the so-called new normal that the world has become accustomed to living in, and relying on the science is what the ISD has found best.
“We need to still have respect for programs in districts that have different policies,” said Michelle Nicholson, executive director of Childhood Services. The intermediate district has itinerant staff who commute to participate in programs.
“It’s hard to write one policy that blankets, because of all of the programs and services we provide,” said Mellema. The board agreed that any traveling staff comply with the local ordinances of the districts they visit.
No major dissent was expressed, and the discussion on changing the mask requirements will be finalized later.