DAVISON — Despite concerns expressed by the president of the teacher’s union, the Davison Board of Education approved its return to school plan Aug. 3, which calls for face-to-face learning.
However, the district decided Aug. 11 to cancel the planned Aug. 17 opening and instead moved the start of school to Sept. 8 (see related story above).
At its Aug. 3 meeting, the board unanimously approved the plan, drafted by the administration, which complies with all the state requirements for returning to face-to-face instruction in Davison schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Kristin Kneff, president of the Davison Education Association, called on the board to consider pushing back the start date of school from Aug. 17, or starting virtually as some school district are doing.
Kneff said while the teachers and support staff believe the best place for students to learn is in the classroom, it must be in an environment that prioritizes the health and safety of staff, students and families.
“I must ask you, is the plan you are voting on enough to keep our students and staff safe? You may have seen the CDC (Center for Disease Control) study released on Friday, regarding the summer camp in Georgia that facilitated an outbreak of at least 260 cases,” she said, in a letter read to the board by Assistant Superintendent Matt Lobben. “A significant number of cases were in children under the age of 10. Although staff was required to wear masks, the children were not. The CDC report concluded by saying this demonstrated that children of all ages are susceptible to SARS, COVID, to infection, and contrary to early reports, might play an important role in transmission.”
Kneff went on to say the CDC also stated the highest risk occurs in full-size, in-person class where students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies and mix between classes and activities and face covering are most essential when distancing is difficult.
“Yet, according to the conversations I’ve had, the district doesn’t anticipate a large reduction in class sizes,” the letter said. “So, distancing will be attempted, but limited. And further it’s not requiring masks in the classrooms at a K-4 level, where these students spend a majority of their time. I know that neither K-4 mask wearing in the classroom, nor six-foot distancing were listed as required practices in the road map, but according to the Michigan Association of Secondary School principals the strongly recommended practices should be followed unless they are not feasible.”
She said a joint statement with the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators and the Michigan Association of School Boards districts were strongly advised that highly recommended protocols be adopted in district preparedness plans, because they are rooted in science and public health evidence. K-4 mask wearing is one practice that is not only feasible for us but easy to implement as students are already wearing them on the bus and in the hallways.
“Why are we not requiring a simple practice that the CDC, the state and the leading education associations all recommend to keep us safe?” she asked in her letter to the board. “One that is required in all other government spaces by the governor’s July 10 executive order, at a time when our country is still at a medium high-risk level, according to the state.”
Kneff said further, “I would also be remiss if I did acknowledge the high level of anxiety many staff members are experiencing right now, as well. People who don’t feel safe are more likely to be anxious, reactive and unproductive. And yet, to get through this time, we need teachers to be at their best. If we want the best education and atmosphere for our students that we can provide in a pandemic, which I’m sure is everyone’s goal, we need to do as much as we can for the adults who are caring for them to feel safe as well.”
She asked the board to take the concerns of the teachers and staff regarding masks for K-5 students into consideration when voting on the plan.
Superintendent Kevin Brown thanked Kneff for her comments, adding he and the administration value their relationship with teachers and he said no one is more concerned about the safety of the students and staff more than the board and administration.
“We have been and will continue to work closely with local health officials on the medical issues. We have carefully drafted a proposed plan to assure compliance with all the local health and safety protocols as well as the governor’s concerning health and returning to school,” said Brown. “Concerning masks, specifically, we will strictly adhere to the current safety protocols in place for our region, recognizing the medical and privacy rights of our students and our employees.
“There are several reasons masks are not being mandated for our youngest learners. While wearing a mask for a relatively short period of time in public may be fine, for these young children to wear a mask for an extended period of time, such as the entire school day, would be difficult. And again, that is why the committee chose not to make mask mandatory for K-5 students.”
Brown said the governor’s Return to School Road Map does not strongly recommend K-5 students wear masks, but rather, it recommends the district consider requiring K-5 students to wear facial coverings.
“Delaying the start of schools is not recommended. I don’t know what good that would do us. It just simply delays the inevitable,” said Brown. “Our students have been out of school since March 12. The CDC recommends children return to school for face-to-face instruction. Our parents have indicated through a recent Google survey and our online registration process that they overwhelming support having their children back in school for face-to-face instruction. “
He said as of Aug. 3, 82 percent of families had either registered or responded to the Google survey and 76 percent of the people responding indicated they wanted their children to return for face-to-face instruction.
Brown said the district’s plan addresses all of the state requirements for returning to in-person classes and includes the required 180 days and 1,098 hours of instruction, without allowing large assemblies.
He said the district has completed its return to school plan and it has been approved by the Genesee Intermediate School District, where it was submitted last week in draft form. Dr. Lisa Hagel, superintendent of the GISD, is waiting for Davison to give her the “green-light” that the board has adopted the plan before she sends it to the Michigan Department of Education and the Department of Treasury on the district’s behalf.
The board unanimously approved the plan.
Board Secretary Karen Conover gave kudos to the superintendent, administrators and any staff that participated in putting the plan together.
“It is unique, its creative, its safe, it meets all of the criteria we have to meet and some extra besides and I think parents are excited about it, once the little glitches in the registration were worked out,” she said. “Things have gone along quite smoothly, and I think parents are excited about this whole prospect.”
Board member Matthew Smith agreed the administration had done a great job.
“None of us want this, none of us want to deal the virus and masks,” he said. “It’s changing the course of all of our lives, that’s for sure. Davison schools is becoming a leader with this, a trailblazer, other districts are looking at what we’re doing.”