Burton area schools move ahead with remote learning

BURTON — Local schools are onboard with remote learning plans following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s orders on Nov. 15 to close classrooms and return to virtual learning.

Atherton, Bentley, Bendle and Kearsley schools all moved to remote learning formats after the governor announced schools would have to close Nov. 18 due to a surge in coronavirus infections and deaths statewide.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MD HHS) moved the state back into a “modified” Phase 3 for at least three weeks, with a planned return to in-person classes happening around Dec. 14.

While the order addresses the closure of high schools, the Burton districts have closed all of their buildings and are conducting classes by virtual remote learning.

For all Atherton students K-12, the tentative return date for face-to-face instruction is Tuesday, Jan. 19.

Atherton Superintendent John Ploof told parents in a letter on the district’s website last week that while the district has been dedicated to providing quality face-to-face instruction, the current pandemic data “is impacting our ability to maintain a safe learning environment and continue offering an effective instructional program with current staff shortages.”

“With the holidays upon us, coupled with the return of many college students, COVID cases are expected to rise and potentially impact all of us,” said Ploof in the letter. “Rather than closing and reopening only to close again when cases or quarantines arise, the next two months of virtual instruction will provide a consistent daily routine for our families and staff.”

The Bentley Board of Education decided Nov. 23 to stay with remote learning for the entire school district until the end of the first semester, which means students will return on Monday, Jan. 25.

Superintendent Dr. Kristy Spann said in a letter to parents on the district website Nov. 24, these decisions have been difficult because the board recognizes most students learn better at school. However, she said, the safety and welfare of staff and students outweighs the benefit of in-person instruction at this time.

“How do we make the best of this situation?” she asked in the letter. “So much of it depends on how we choose to look at the situation and how we choose to respond.” Spann related a story about serving as a paramedic years ago and how when she showed up for a 911 call, it was never that person’s best day.

“Yet, I learned that some people handle terrible situations with grace and optimism and determination. Others, not so much. I had patients from birth to over 100 years old,” she said. “I learned that each day is a gift—we don’t know which day will be our last and we do not know which day will be the last for those we love. And from that job, I learned who I want to be when I’m 90 years old and who I don’t want to be. (By the way, I want to be the person who lives with gratitude in her heart.) That is what I wish for each of you: to live with optimism, determination, and gratitude in your heart.”

Bendle Superintendent John Krolewski’s message to parents on his district’s website was one of optimism in the face of the uncertainty COVID-1 poses.

Krolewski said the order will end face-to-face learning until at least Dec. 14. He said at that time, should the district be allowed to resume, it will look at the numbers and decide to return or postpone returning to in-person classes until Jan. 19.

“With an outlook for increasing COVID-19 outbreaks, and a severe shortage of substitute teachers, it is extremely important stronger steps are taken to limit viral spread among staff and students,” said Krolewski in his message to parents. “Our current plan is to evaluate the situation on Dec. 11 to determine whether face-to-face learning can and should continue on Dec. 14.”

Again, he said, a face-to-face return is dependent upon state level guidance, available staff and degree of viral spread within the community.

He called virtual learning “not an ideal solution, but it does provide opportunity for contact.”

Without healthy employees, said Krolewski, there will be no one to provide instruction, whether face-to-face or online.

Kearsley Schools cites the number of teachers who have been quarantined and a shortage of substitutes as another reason it’s classrooms will remain closed until the end of the semester in January.

Superintendent Kenneth Walworth said in his video blog to parents there were three main factors the Board of Education considered when deciding to extend online learning beyond the state mandated three weeks.

The first were the rising numbers of staff and students infected or quarantined and being able to maintain a safe environment. He said as of Nov. 18, the district had to quarantine 456 staff members or students.

He said there had also been 29 positive COVID-19 cases amongst Kearsley students and staff, with an increase of 10 in just one week.

The second factor was the district’s ability to run its schools and maintain a robust, educational environment. District rules regarding exposure to the virus require a quarantine of 10 days while a COVID-positive person is still contagious, then they begin a 14-day quarantine.

“It’s not hard to see the impact a single quarantine can have on a classroom or on a teacher,” said Walworth. “In all, there have been 74 staff members who have been quarantined for 14-24 days. To our wonderful teachers’ credit, they have all taught from home during their quarantines.”

He said the district still had to hire certified substitute teachers to be in the classrooms with the kids. But with a shortage of substitutes, they were often found without subs. Walworth said Nov. 13 eight district classroom were left uncovered because of a shortage of substitutes.

The third factor, Walworth said in his address, is the quality of the education Kearsley is providing to the majority of its students.

“Because of COVID concerns, fewer parents have been sending their children to school,” he said. “For the past few weeks both the middle school and the high school have averaged under five students per classroom. So, while the teachers were teaching those five students in their classroom there were 25 students at home who were getting assignments to work on but were unable to connect and get instruction from their teachers.”

Walworth said district officials believe students grades were suffering, so the new remote learning plan at the high school and middle school allows students to return to a more traditional, structured schedule of meeting with and being instructed by teachers every day.

For more information about each district’s remote-learning plan, visit their websites at:

Atherton – www.athertonschools.org

Bentley – www.bentleyschools.org

Bendle – www.bendleschools.org

Kearsley – www.kearsleyschools.org