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Esky schools discusses in-person attendance

ESCANABA — The Escanaba School Board has decided to return all grades to face-to-face learning on January 25.

Students will have the option to return in-person, attend in hybrid fashion or completely online. To accommodate those who choose to attend online, all classes will stream their lessons in addition to having face-to-face learning.

The decision to return to face-to-face schooling was not without debate. Concerns were voiced about schools being able to maintain social distancing should all students opt to attend in-person. This was countered with doubt that all students would want to return in-person, lowering in-building numbers.

COVID-19 cases are trending in the right direction, and only one student has tested positive in all of January. No students needed to be quarantined as a result. Superintendent Coby Fletcher noted it is hard to say whether the downward trending cases are a result of hybrid learning or a general trending down of COVID-19 in the county.

The school will continue monitoring exposures and positive cases after students return. If the school reaches 11 positive cases or 250 quarantines within a week, an emergency school board meeting will be triggered to re-evaluate the situation.

The board agreed parents should have the ultimate flexibility for making the attendance choice for their children. Parents were reminded the state has changed pupil attendance rules for this year, considering attendance via streaming equivalent to attending face-to-face. Attendance rates have remained over 97% since returning to classes in hybrid format on January 4.

A number of parents urged the board to consider re-opening the school to face-to-face learning, stating their teens are depressed from the extended isolation of remote learning. Some pointed out kids are not social currently distancing despite hybrid learning, some even getting together with friends to work on school assignments. Board members said the school will continue to work toward maintaining social distancing practices when face-to-face schooling resumes.

In other business, the district was awarded a $9,000 food services grant, wiping out debt for all current students. The district qualified to be a BK-12 Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) District in the 2020-2021 school year, which means every student in the District now receives free breakfast and lunch. Though students do not currently accrue any meal debt, the district had student meal debt from prior years before it qualified for CEP.

Fletcher said applying for the grant aligned with the district’s student-centered focus. “No family has to worry about paying for a school meal, and now no family has to stress over money owed from prior years. It took a lot of work, but it was absolutely the right thing to do for our families,” said Fletcher.

Bob Chaillier was elected to another term as board president, and three new hires were confirmed by the board. The hires are Christa Hubert as social worker at Webster and Emilie Holle as math teacher at EHS/EJHS.

During the budget discussion, the board also discussed upcoming maintenance projects for aging facilities, including replacing the membrane on the west roof of Escanaba Upper Elementary School. Money has already been set aside for facility repairs.

“We are fortunate to be in a position to do the work we need to do to maintain our buildings because we made cuts in the past in anticipation for getting these things done,” said Chaillier.

Student Representative Jenny Zhao announced the honor society induction will be separated into four categories, inducted at intervals between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on January 31. Zhao also shared students celebrated the International Day of Tolerance by contributing different paint colors to the same canvas.

“It is our differences that make the painting interesting and beautiful,” said Zhao.

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