Dearborn Public School trustees will take time during a scheduled retreat on Saturday, January 23 to discuss and possibly vote on a revised plan outlining the steps needed to bring students back to some form of face-to-face learning.
The virtual event will be shown live on the district’s YouTube and cable channels and on the District’s Facebook page. The retreat starts at 10 a.m, but trustees are not scheduled to talk about the reopening plans until 1:15 p.m., after they hold previously scheduled training. An agenda will be available closer to the meeting date on the district website in the documents on the Board of Education page.
Trustees had already planned their annual retreat for Jan. 23 when Gov. Whitmer made her announcement earlier this month encouraging schools to reopen by March 1. During the regular Board of Education meeting on Jan. 11, Superintendent Glenn Maleyko suggested the board hold a special meeting sometime before the next regular meeting in February to talk about the announcement and revisit the district’s current reopening plan. The Feb. 8 meeting might be too late for the district to fully develop and implement a new plan before March 1, Dr. Maleyko told trustees.
Dearborn Public Schools has been in remote learning since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer closed schools in March. No date has been set for returning students to in-school learning.
The Board of Education in late October adopted the current reopening plan, which allows the district to reopen schools once two metrics are met. First, the Dearborn community needs to improve to at least a D rating on the COVID risk matrix created by the Wayne County Health Department (WCHD). Dearborn and most other communities earned an E grade on the most recent report. The second reopening requirement is that Wayne County, outside of Detroit, have a positivity rate under 5 percent for at least two weeks in a row on a separate WCHD report. (The most recent version of both reports are available on the district’s COVID-19 page.) The current COVID report shows Wayne County’s positivity rate has improved to 10.8 percent.
Gov. Whitmer encouraged schools to return to some sort of face-to-face learning by March 1, especially for young children and those with special needs. She noted that return to face-to-face could take several forms such as blended learning, where students divide their time between in-school and online to reduce the number of students in the building at one time. The governor did not require schools to reopen. Ultimately, decisions about reopening during the pandemic will still be made by local school boards based on conditions in their communities. The governor’s announcement also included updated cleaning and other requirements for how school buildings operate during the pandemic.
Besides the COVID metrics, the district also needs to reevaluate how schools would reopen, Dr. Maleyko told the board.
The current plan, adopted in the middle of the first semester, called for returning students in a blended model starting with elementary pupils. Once COVID conditions improve enough, kindergarten through second grade students would return followed by third through fifth grade two weeks later. All the elementary students would attend for a shorter day two days a week, splitting which students are there on which days. Students would then learn from home on the other weekdays. GSRP preschool students would return after elementary students.
The current plan also says middle and high school students could return with a similar blended learning model starting with second semester, if COVID conditions allow. Dr. Maleyko said administrators are developing plans to phase in the return for older students and creating more specifics about how that would look. The second semester starts Jan. 25, but students will not be returning to in-school learning that week.
For blended learning, tentative plans call for different start times for students: 8 a.m. for high school, 8:50 for middle school and 9:40 for elementary students.
Teachers are among the groups now eligible to receive COVID vaccinations, and the district is working closely with the Wayne County Health Department and Wayne RESA to schedule those shots. The number of people eligible and interested in receiving a vaccination still far exceeds Michigan’s supply, and it may take weeks, or even months, before all interested school staff can receive the vaccine.
No vaccination has been approved for children younger than 16.
“We know face-to-face learning is the best model for most students, and we want to return our students to the classrooms,” said Superintendent Glenn Maleyko. “However, Dearborn continues to have some of the highest COVID rates in the county. We have to balance the need to get students back in schools with protecting the health and safety of our students and staff.”