SCOTTVILLE — Saying Mason County Central Schools is “working tirelessly to — as I call it — build a plane while it’s in the air heading toward an uncertain destination,” Mason County Central Schools Superintendent Jeff Mount updated parents and school board trustees about plans for the upcoming year in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“No district has all the answers… but collectively we can… work on this,” Mount told parents and students attending Monday’s board of education meeting at MCC High School to learn more about what the upcoming school year will look like for students.
MCC’s COVID-19 response and preparedness plan for the fall trimester — which is set to start on Tuesday, Sept. 8 — was a matter of discussion. Board trustees welcomed questions about safety measures and requirements, as well as what to expect in terms of transportation, remote learning and other issues.
The meeting took place just days after MCC released information about its COVID-19 draft plan for the school year, which will include in-person and learning-from-home instructional models for students, if the region is still in Phase 4 of the state’s plan to reopen.
Mount told parents and trustees that the district had been working consistently on preparation and evaluation of student needs for the year. However, while a framework is in place, there is still a significant amount of logistical work to be done before the plan is finalized.
“This impacts every fiber of our district and what’s going on,” Mount said.
Parents asked about the necessity of face masks for students and teachers.
“Our plan is saying we’re not going to have our (kindergarten through fifth-grade) kids wear masks in the classroom, but in a common area… like a bus, hallways they will have to wear them,” Mount said. “For (students in grades six through 12), it’s mandated that they wear face masks.”
Mount stated the regulations regarding facial coverings were established by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer through an executive order, and are beyond the district’s control.
He said exceptions would be made for children with medical restrictions. The families of such students must provide a doctor’s note recommending that masks not be worn, he said.
All school employees will wear masks at all times.
One parent asked about plastic face shields, which guard against sneezes and coughs but affect breathing less.
Concern was expressed about students not wearing masks being subject to stigma. The parent asked if the less restrictive facial shields could be used by students who aren’t medically able to wear cloth masks.
Mount responded it was a good idea, and said he would look into it. Kris Courtland-Willick, MCC’s business director, said the district has ordered several facial shields.
“They’re pretty snazzy,” she said. “They’re like glasses and the shield comes down (over the face).”
MCC is also preparing to implement other safety measures to keep exposure to a minimum for students attending school in-person.
“There will be assigned seating, and that’s (a recommendation) from the health department (to help with contact-tracing),” Mount said. “Classes will operate as ‘cohorts,’ and will stay together for the duration of the day. This is also for contact-tracing (and isolating cases).”
One parent asked what the plan is in the event of a positive case in the school. Mount replied that the district will work with District Health Department No. 10 to determine the level of exposure and the degree to which isolation will be required.
Belief in the efficacy of masks was also brought up. One parent asked what would happen if a teacher “did not believe” in masks. Mount stated that, regardless of their beliefs, teachers are MCC employees of the district and will be required to follow the law and the district’s guidelines.
Teachers will also have to pass a screening before entering the school each day, Mount noted.
“Safety will always be the No. 1 thing,” he said.
MCC will offer busing in the fall, but safety measures will be implemented for that as well. Social distancing will be encouraged to the extent that it’s possible, and students from the same household will be seated together.
Parents are welcome to drive their kids to school, too, as the district will not be able to add any buses to its fleet, according to Mount.
Students who opt to use the district’s learn-from-home model should contact their respective school building to make arrangements. In-person instruction will be the default. Students opting to use the at-home option need to commit to at least one full trimester using that method of instruction.
Mount said a teacher from each grade level will be assigned to oversee learning-from-home instruction.
If the state or region reverts back to Phase 3, Mount said MCC is preparing a fully remote learning option that would be significantly different from the model used during the spring, when schools were shuttered due to the initial COVID-19 wave.
If that plan is needed, Mount said the district will provide Google Chromebooks to each student in grades six through 12.
However, internet connectivity for rural homes remains an issue. Mount said the district cannot afford to supply each student with a mobile hotspot, so that plan, if it became necessary, would need to include hybrid elements and not be an entirely online model.
“We will (work with) families with special circumstances, though,” Mount said.
If the region has progressed to Phase 5 when the school year starts, some requirements will be less stringent. For instance, in Phase 5, masks are only “strongly encouraged” for K-12 students, not required.
Mount said updates will continue to be provided to parents via the MCC mobile app and the district’s website at www.mccschools.org.
The school board will vote on a finalized version of the plan on Aug. 10. MCC has a deadline of Aug. 15 to submit the plan to the West Shore Educational Service District, which then submits the plan for the entire ESD to the state for approval.
“We have at least a framework to build off of,” Mount said.
Mount and Courtland-Willick provided an update on the school district’s agreement with SunLarge Industries, allowing the company to lease parcels of land for the placement of two solar arrays that would supply power to MCC’s buildings.
“Solar is coming soon,” Mount said, noting that installation of the panels was delayed because of construction restrictions stemming from the pandemic, but the hope is that they will be installed and working by the fall.
Mount also provided an update on the budget, and possible additional aid for schools to offset cuts in school aid.
Mount said federal aid package proposals from the Republicans and Democrats will be compared and negotiated soon.
“Now they’ve got to meet, and hopefully they focus on what’s best for the nation, including the schools,” Mount said. “There is money in (both plans) for education, but there’s a difference between them. They need to negotiate that and get that done now, so we know how it impacts our budget so we don’t have to make decimating decisions to our education program.”
Mount also briefly addressed the state budget and how it relates to MCC.
“We have not gotten the exact district allocation, but we should be getting that next week for 2019-20, and that will tell us what we need to know about 2020-21.” Mount said, noting that the cuts were not as severe as initially feared. “It wasn’t the $650 per student cut we’d budgeted for.”
The board also approved increasing lunch prices for all MCC students from $3 to $3.05.
“That’s based on a recommendation from the paid lunch equity tool that we’re required to use,” Courtland-Willick said.
Additionally, trustees unanimously voted to re-appoint James Leuvano as MCC’s representative to the Special Education Parent Advisory Committee, and approved bids from Prairie Farms for milk, and Aunt Millie’s for bread.