Mason County school districts are working to establish instructional plans for the coming months following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s decision to keep K-12 buildings closed for the remainder of the school year.
Whitmer’s decision to extend the closure — which was originally scheduled to last three weeks — was made to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the state.
Each Michigan school district is required to develop continuity of learning and remote access to instruction plans. Intermediate school districts, like the West Shore Educational Service District here in Mason County, were required to begin accepting those plans on Wednesday, though many area schools have yet to finalize and submit their plans.
West Shore ESD Superintendent Jason Jeffrey said he along with assistant superintendents Amy Taranko, Kerrie Harrie and Kim Tiel will review the instructional plans from each district.
“I’m not anticipating much difficulty, if any at all,” Jeffrey said. “Our districts have been extremely conscientious and extremely involved in preparing for this before the order. (We will be devoting) our energy to actually implementing the plans rather than creating roadblocks.
“I believe just about all of our districts are nearly ready to submit their plan. I would expect most of them before this weekend,” Jeffrey said.
Ludington Area School District
Jason Kennedy, superintendent of Ludington Area Schools, told the Daily News that the district’s plan for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year would be ready for submission to the ESD by the end of the business day Wednesday, or today.
Kennedy, wrote the Daily News Wednesday, that he was still getting feedback from staff on the plan before the district’s submission to the ESD. Kennedy plans to have a press release on Friday pending plan’s approval by the ESD. He did note that all documents will be posted on the district’s webpage as they are updated.
A skeleton of the webpage is already available and active, and Kennedy noted that everything is a draft and a work-in-progress and will be before the plan is published officially.
Mason County Central Schools
Jeff Mount, superintendent of Mason County Central Schools, told the Daily News that he hopes to have a plan for the remainder of the year’s instruction ready to be submitted to the ESD by Friday.
However, he said work is still being done to ensure the needs of students in the district are being met, including making accommodations for students who do not have internet access.
“We are working on MCC’s plan with hopes of final development by the end of this week…,” Mount told the Daily News. “With that said, many communications will be taking place among staff and with our parents (and) students to determine the appropriate method for each household.”
Methods will include educational packets, as well as online resources for students who have access to the internet.
The goal is to have the plan implemented later in the month, according to Mount.
“We will begin ramping up parts of the plan early next week with full implementation of the plan by April 20.”
He underscored that MCC is placing a strong emphasis on making sure the needs of the various students are met, and said educators are focusing on developing a high-quality plan to serve a diverse student body, rather than rushing to complete something before it’s ready.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Mount said, noting that he shared the same sentiment with educators recently.
MCC’s district includes more than 250 square miles, with more than 400 school-of-choice students from outside of the district, and many different levels of connectivity and access among the roughly 1,300 total students, Mount said. Those factors will play into the district’s plans as they continue to develop.
“This will take some very strategic work to make this happen,” Mount said.
Mason County Eastern Schools
The distance learning plan for Mason County Eastern Schools is still being developed, according to Superintendent Paul Shoup.
School leaders recently contacted the families of students to determine whether they had the ability to complete learning online. During the phone calls, parents were given the choice between an online or packet method, Shoup said.
The plan is expected to be submitted to the ESD by the end of this week. If all goes according to schedule, teachers will begin lessons on Tuesday, April 14.
Gateway to Success Academy
Gateway to Success Superintendent Jamie Bandstra told the Daily News he conducted town hall meetings with the families of students. Those meetings were used to educate students and parents about the school’s developing plan for the coming months.
“We don’t want anybody confused with what is going on. There are a lot of moving parts, so keeping everybody informed is key,” Bandstra said.
Bandstra noted that G2S is in a bit of a different position than other schools in the county, and that moving to an all-online class schedule will be an easier transition.
“I think every district is unique in what they are best in. We just so happen to have one-to-one devices for our students, so it may be harder for some districts to completely switch gears,” he said.
Bandstra also mentioned that the district is continuing to waive deposit fees for taking home tablets or internet hotspots to help ensure connectivity and continued learning. Bandstra said the plan just needs approval from the school’s board Wednesday night before being submitted to the ESD.
West Shore ESD
West Shore ESD handles may programs and services that work directly with families and students, including in areas of special education as well as career and technical education.
Jeffrey said Wednesday there are some complications and unique needs that need to be serviced for those families with children who are enrolled in special education.
“We are trying to work through exactly how that is going to work. We’re in contact with the families under these circumstances and what will bring the most value. We’re also recognizing there will be some social and emotional support.”
For the CTE students, the challenge is not having the accessibility to much of the equipment and other items that are needed to complete tasks. Staff with CTE was meeting with Dale Horowski, the interim director and principal of the CTE and ASM Tech programs, on Wednesday to come up with work.
“They’ll develop some things they can do collectively in some of those activities that will be program specific,” Jeffrey said. “Some of it will be in career and employability skills that can be used across the board.”
Jeffrey said the best case scenario is for the staff to have a plan solidified by the end of the day on Monday, April 13.
Mark Kinney, vice president of academics and student services at West Shore Community College, told the Daily News late last week that those students who were dual-enrolled in high school and in the college saw their college classes move to online when the schools initially closed.
Some students decided to withdraw from classes because of the lack of reliable internet access, he said.
“Those cases have been the exception, however, and not a common occurrence,” Kinney said.
Last week’s announcement to close the school buildings for K-12 students affected dual-enrollment for next fall.
“We will be working with the high school counselors and other administrators in the coming weeks to come up with a process for setting student schedules and getting them enrolled in their fall courses,” Kinney said.