GLADWIN – On Friday November 20 the Gladwin Community Schools made the difficult decision to move the entire district online for virtual learning starting on November 23 and running through January 4. As the restart date approaches they will reevaluate the situation to determine whether students can safely return at that time.
The period in question includes the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays so students will only miss 17.5 days of face-to-face instruction if they are able to return on the fourth. “Closing now allows us to gain six weeks of separation,” said Superintendent Rick Seebeck. “Hopefully we can slow things down so that we can get it under control preventing a longer shutdown later this school year.”
Seebeck wants to assure parents that the Gladwin Schools have been preparing for this possibility since last spring and are in position to offer a quality educational experience for all students. “It’s going to be like night and day compared to last spring,” said Seebeck. “We have purchased software and chrome books, and our teachers have been planning for this eventuality.”
COVID-19 outbreaks at two schools have led the district to this decision. Two entire elementary classrooms have had to be quarantined along with 198 students at the high school for about 260 students total. Seebeck explained that the number of positive cases in the schools is not extremely high but contact tracing indicates that many students and staff have been in close contact with those that are infected and are required to quarantine by the health department.
The elementary school situation is particularly complicated. Due to the nature of an elementary classroom, individual contact tracing is nearly impossible forcing the entire class to be quarantined when a positive case is identified. There is no way to accurately determine whether two students have been in close proximity, within six feet for 15 minutes, at some point during the day.
Everybody is stretched thin by the pandemic. The Gladwin Schools started the year with about 25 percent of their students opting for virtual instruction. The district partnered with an online educational platform for those students. Each student also has a staff mentor for help and to problem solve if the student runs into difficulty. The students in quarantine are under the direct instruction of their classroom teachers. With so many kids and staff in quarantine, it was getting harder to service their needs while still providing effective classroom instruction. “The move to 100 percent virtual allows us to focus on one thing and do it well,” added Seebeck.
So far the move to virtual learning seems to be working out. I had the opportunity to talk to Gladwin High School student, Mikayla Petherbridge who is very happy with the experience. “I like it,” she said. “We are able to work at our own pace after we do the Zoom classroom.” The high school students participate in three classroom sessions in the morning then use the afternoon to complete their assignments. The classes rotate on a daily basis.
Advance planning has allowed the Gladwin Community Schools to make the best of a bad situation. Hopefully the extended time out of school will help stem the outbreak and allow schools to reopen in January.