ST. CLAIR SHORES – Beginning the week of March 8, after press time, students at Lake Shore Public Schools will have the opportunity to attend in-person classes four days a week.
“At the moment, according to the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), we are at blue level, the lowest risk level for Macomb County,” Superintendent Joseph DiPonio told the Lake Shore Public Schools Board of Education. at its February 22 meeting. Encounter.
The Board of Education unanimously voted to merge the two cohorts so that all students currently participating in blended learning instead attend school together from Tuesday to Friday with slightly shortened hours and continue to learn remotely all Mondays.
For most of the school year so far, the students have been divided into two cohorts. All students learned remotely on Monday, then half of the students attended in person on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and half of the students attended in person on Wednesdays and Fridays, learning virtually on the opposite days.
DiPonio said schools that did not divide their student body and had less strict social distancing than schools in Lake Shore had rates of transmission and infection similar to their district.
“When we look at the data, where we are in terms of risk, we decline. This is news we should be happy about, ”he said.
Lake Shore Public Schools kept their middle and elementary schools open using the hybrid calendar in November and December as other neighboring districts moved students into full-time virtual learning at the same time high schools were summoned. to participate in fully distance learning by the State.
“We made it through those days,” DiPonio said.
He said it seemed that mitigation strategies such as wearing masks, washing hands and cleaning surfaces, “all of those things that schools have been very, very good at,” are helping prevention. , even when a social distance of 6 feet is not always possible.
Over the past few weeks, building administrators at Lake Shore Public Schools have been working with staff to have student seats spaced 6 feet apart as much as possible. When the two cohorts of students are combined, DiPonio said most classes would have 20-25 students per class due to the number of students who want to stay in a virtual learning environment full-time. Even with the cohorts combined, the capacity building will still be around 50%, he said.
“We talked in January after the mid-winter break that we wanted to be prepared to combine cohorts because we saw the level of risk and transmission decrease,” he said. “Two weeks ago, the school had 31 classes that had serious spacing issues. They are only two at this stage.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, district staff expressed concern about receiving vaccines before combining student groups. Lake Shore Public Schools were able to coordinate with Ascension Health to provide an immunization clinic for its teachers and staff on February 27 for the first dose and March 27 for the second dose.
“Any staff member who wants to be vaccinated can get the vaccine,” said DiPonio.
When Board of Education secretary Elizabeth Munger asked why March 9 was chosen when staff wouldn’t necessarily have had the opportunity to be fully immunized by then, DiPonio said ‘They were trying to provide as much in-person instruction as possible.
He said the district wanted to inform families enough about the change and also give them time to adjust their schedules. Families were told, the last time they were given the opportunity to choose between virtual and blended learning, that there was a possibility that the cohorts could be combined at some point in the second semester.
DiPonio said that in the last parent survey, 70% of families supported combining cohorts.
In mid-February, he said 19% of Lake Shore staff who wanted a COVID-19 vaccine had received two doses, 40% had received their first dose, and 23% needed to receive the vaccine. Seventeen percent were not interested in getting the vaccine yet. As a result, he said, about 83% of staff will have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by March 8.
Several teachers from across the district had their views on the issue expressed by Frederick Shaheen of the Lake Shore Federation of Teachers, who read letters from staff during the public participation portion of the meeting. Some teachers said they were concerned about the increase in exhibits, especially at the secondary level where secondary school teachers would instruct students who alternate up to six lessons a day and lunch. They also expressed concerns about the spacing.
Lake Shore High School history teacher Michael Spriet said he was concerned about the decision to combine cohorts in March before all staff potentially had the opportunity to receive two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine .
“Putting them in a full classroom before they have had a chance to receive the two immunization schedules is reckless and unwise,” he said. “We’ve come this far together, and I would hate to see us drop the ball so close to the end zone.”
However, some staff said they agreed with the plan, saying the positives outweigh the negatives and high school students need the consistency of more in-person learning as much. that it was sure.
Parent Justin Maniaci said full-time in-person learning can’t happen fast enough, in his opinion.
“I really believe our kids have to attend five days a week. It is moving far too slowly. My ninth and seventh graders tell me they’re not learning anything, ”he said.
Although COVID-19 is a risk, he said there is also a risk to the social-emotional, physical and mental well-being of students that is not supported by learning at home.
“Children socialize with each other whether they’re in school or not,” Maniaci said. “They have to go back full time. The current model does not educate my children and prepare them for a bright future.
DiPonio said it will continue to offer free childcare for children of staff members and that anyone who wants to remain a fully virtual staff member will be accommodated.
“There must be grace and understanding in all of this,” he said. “We would do our best to make accommodations. “