Requiring face masks part of district’s layered approach to safely reopening schools

Two girls in face masks do a hands-on activity at a school table.

Following the recommendations of federal, state and local health officials, Dearborn Public Schools will continue its layered approach to mitigating the spread of COVID 19 as more than 20,000 students return to the classroom on Aug.30.

The plan presented at the Board of Education meeting on Monday, Aug. 23 includes requiring face masks for students, staff and visitors inside our schools; increased air circulation in buildings; social distancing in classrooms, and numerous other steps. Most of the prevention strategies are a continuation of procedures the district has had in place since at least last school year.

“Community health experts at the state and local level are emphasizing that schools need to take a layered approach with multiple measures, including face masks, to keep students safe and in-school,” said Superintendent Glenn Maleyko. “We want to give our students the best possible chance for a full year of face-to-face learning, which means taking what steps we can to stay safe, especially now with the delta variant.”

Maleyko went on to note that half of the district’s students are too young to be vaccinated.

On Aug.13, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services updated its guidance to schools, bluntly telling schools they should require face masks as part of a multi-layered approach to preventing COVID spread in schools.

Under federal law, masks are required on all public transportation, including school buses.

Dearborn’s mask requirement currently runs through Oct. 1.  District officials will re-examine conditions closer to that time to decide whether the mask requirement will be extended.  The district is not requiring masks outside of school buildings.  

Student athletes will continue to follow the guidelines provided by the Michigan High School Athletic Association.  Spectators are allowed at this year’s sporting events.

Dearborn Public School students start the new school year on Aug. 30.  Except for students enrolled in the new Virtual Learning K-12 School, every district student will be back in their school building every day – something that has not occurred since the state ordered schools to close in March of 2020.  

As students return to daily in-school instruction, the district is using a multi-layered approach to protect students, staff and families and to avoid as much as possible any disruptions to the school year.  Many of the safety measures are explained on the district’s Back to School webpage.

The district is increasing air circulation in buildings, striving to maintain three feet of social distancing in classrooms, and cleaning frequently touched surfaces more often.  

The district also strongly encourages everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but is not requiring vaccinations at this time.  Any decision about requiring vaccines for students would have to come from the state. 

Schools will also limit large indoor gatherings of students and staff to no more than 50 percent of that room’s capacity, including auditoriums and gyms. Outside groups can again request to use district buildings but must comply with current district safety precautions.

Schools will also hold in-building open houses in September. Open house attendance may be limited to students and parents/guardians to reduce the number of people in the building.

Administrators also noted during Monday’s board meeting that switching to online or blended learning for all students is not possible this year.  For districts to receive their state funding, students must attend class in person unless they are part of an approved online learning program.  Last school  year, legislators waived those so-called “seat time” rules to give schools flexibility to deal with the pandemic.  State funding accounts for about 70 percent of the district’s general fund revenue.

“All of our prevention strategies follow the recommendations from public health experts. They tell us face masks really do work and that we need to combine mask usage with other precautions to protect people and keep schools open,” Dr. Maleyko said. “Almost one-fifth of the Dearborn community passes through our buildings every school day.  We need this layered approach to do our part to protect everyone who lives, works or learns in this community.”