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School officials plan for instruction at home

ESCANABA — Local school superintendents are putting plans in place after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Wednesday Michigan schools would suspended in-person instruction for the remainder of the year. Schools in the state have been closed since mid-March to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Planning includes ways to instruct students at home.

“The executive order included a great deal of information that will require time to interpret and digest,” said Escanaba Superintendent Coby Fletcher. “Nevertheless, Escanaba Area Public Schools has already done significant planning in anticipation of this order, and we should be ready to meet all the requirements of the order within the next week. We will be in regular contact with students and families throughout the process.”

Gladstone-Rapid River Superintendent Jay Kulbertis agrees it will take some time to digest all the details in the executive order. School district administration has contacted almost every family by phone in both Gladstone and Rapid River districts, according to Kulbertis.

“We felt it was important to connect in person and then spend some time discussing their access to the internet and availability of devices in the home,” he said. “…As you can imagine, it is still too soon for us to make firm plans for some important events, like graduation. But, when more information is available, we will share out those details so that everyone can participate.”

Suspending face-to-face instruction in school buildings is giving teachers the challenge to create ways to teach.

“Our teachers are embracing the challenge of developing engaging lessons through the use of devices and supplemental packets to continue learning, moving forward through the 2019-2020 school year,” said Big Bay de Noc School Superintendent DeeDee Thill. “Although we have a few challenges with connectivity, our students have their school-provided Chromebooks at home and we are finding ways to connect with them as we all find our way through the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Having the internet in all households would make instruction to students easier. Not all areas in the Upper Peninsula have an internet signal, connectivity and accessibility issues are real barriers.

“The challenge is we are not equipped for remote learning, however it is necessary and we have exceptional educators throughout our ISD that will meet the challenge head on,” said Bark River-Harris Superintendent Jason Lockwood. “We expect to begin our remote learning model by April 13. We will finalize our plans in the days to come and being sharing details with our parents soon.”

Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed Executive Order No. 2020-35, Provision of K-12 education during the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. In this executive order, Governor Whitmer suspended in-person instruction in school buildings for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

Governor Whitmer encouraged schools and students to adapt, and said it is reasonable and necessary to temporarily suspend in-person instruction of K-12 students and provide limited and temporary relief from certain restrictions and requirements so that K-12 education may continue by the best alternative means possible. (michigan.gov/whitmer)

Teachers and administrators have the means and heart to find ways to instruct their students. Besides teaching, the highest importance is keeping their students safe during the pandemic.

“As disappointed as I am for the students and staff that want to be in buildings, I appreciate the Governor looking out for the well being of our educators and students,” said Mid Peninsula Superintendent Eric VanDamme. “Distance learning is not optimal, but we will work to ensure that students are getting instruction in some form.”

Whitmer said face-to-face instruction will not resume this spring. Districts will create distance learning programs, but they have flexibility on how they do so. Options include phone lessons, online classes and mailing materials mailed to homes. Schools relying on virtual learning should ensure that every student has access to a device that can connect to the internet.

Under Whitmer’s order, schools must establish distance learning programs no later than April 28.

“This is the best thing that we can do for the health of our children, for the tens of thousands of educators in Michigan who work in our schools” Whitmer said, after projecting that cases of COVID-19 in Michigan will reach an apex in early May. “This will ensure more kids and educators will return to school happy and healthy at the start of next school year.”

Seniors will graduate and other children will advance to the next grade, as long as they were on track to do so before the closure. Students will not be penalized if they are unable to participate in an alternate learning plan.

Traditional districts and charter schools will get their full state funding.

“We recognize that districts do not have equitable access” to resources such as broadband, Whitmer said. “That’s why it’s not one-size-fits-all. It’s got to be determined at the local level so that the needs of kids are met, acknowledging the unique challenges that districts are confronting in different parts of our state.”

Her decision was backed by lawmakers from both parties and an array of school groups and employee unions.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

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