GLADWIN – Will Michigan schools open on time this fall? That question has probably been on the mind of many parents and students since the abrupt closure last spring due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Gladwin Schools Superintendent Rick Seebeck thinks they will. He shared his thoughts on the subject with me last week.
Governor Whitmer formed a Return to Learning Advisory Council back in May. The council which was to be made up of students, parents, educators and public health officials has been given the task of providing the state with recommendations on how to safely, equitably and efficiently reopen the schools this fall. They are supposed to come up with the best practices and recommendations that schools will follow during the reopening process.
“We are waiting to hear what the commission comes up with,” said Seebeck. “My guess is we will return to face-to-face instruction with some modifications to the school day. We will also have a much more robust online program for families that choose online as opposed to face-to-face.”
Several options will probably be considered including splitting the kids into groups and having them attend on alternating days; Monday and Wednesday for one group Tuesday and Thursday for another. Another possibility is to stretch the school day making it longer, but going fewer days during the week. Both options would give the cleaning crews more time to sanitize the schools. No matter what the recommendations are it will “look different,” added Seebeck.
The yearly calendar might also look a little strange. Officials at the state level have mentioned that districts will have more leeway in its design this year. If districts decide to take some cues from local colleges they may decide to start earlier in August and end the semester at Thanksgiving. Colleges are hoping to avoid another outbreak by not bringing students back to campus immediately after they come in contact with a lot of people.
Seebeck said that the district already has a group in place that will examine the guidelines and make recommendations specific to Gladwin. The district school improvement team which is made up of parents, teachers and administrators will get to work on them as soon as the guidelines are available. “We will get the information out to parents as soon as possible so that they know what to expect.”
Multiple considerations will come into play once the recommendations are released by the state. Due to shared needs the schools in the Clare Gladwin Regional Education Service District (RESD) and the Jack Pine Conference will probably coordinate their plans. “We share a large number of classes with the RESD, and if sports come back to a normal level we will have to cooperate within the Jack Pine,” continued Seebeck.
Schools of choice will also come into play. Will parents be forced to shop for schools based strictly schedules? “That won’t be good for anybody,” said Seebeck. “We have to do what’s best for all of the schools.” He feels that the superintendents in the area work well together and does not expect this to become a problem.
One novel idea that Seebeck mentioned is to start the new school year where the old one left off. The students and teachers could spend the time “tying up loose ends.” This could be especially beneficial to younger students. They left school at the end of the day on March 12 and didn’t return. It would give everyone the chance to say goodbye and provide a launch pad for the new school year. “We can’t make up for nine weeks in one week, but it would good for the kids.”
The final message that Seebeck had for parents is that the school district will be ready for the fall. “I am expecting there will be face-to-face instruction along with online classes for those how prefer it. There will be some changes to the schedule and the way we do business, but everything will be done to protect the health of our students and staff, and regardless of the mode of instruction a family chooses Gladwin will be ready to meet their educational needs.”