GLADWIN – The Gladwin Community Schools approved their Return to Learning Plan at a virtual school board meeting on Monday night. The plan has been in the works for months and is based on the Michigan 2020-21 Return to School Roadmap for areas in Phase 4. Gladwin had already created a comprehensive plan for Phases 1 to 3 in their Continuity of Learning Plan. The requirements and recommendations for Phase 5 are all in Phase 4 plan so if our area is moved into Phase 5 the plan will still be relevant. All of the requirements found in the Michigan Return to School Roadmap will be followed along with some local adaptations to tailor the plan to fit local needs.

Countless hours have gone into the preparation of the plan since the release of Governor Whitmer's, Return to School Roadmap, last spring. The district has relied on the expertise of its staff (teachers, administrators and support personnel) along with the input from community members to create the best possible plan to meet the educational needs of all students while also keeping everyone, students and staff, safe.

The safety measures being put in place are extensive and expensive. Over a half a million dollars has been spent on safety precautions. These precautions include; temperature-scanning gates in entryways, two large tents, Plexiglass shields for student desks and other things. “We are committed to keeping everyone safe and we are lucky that we are in a position to be able to do it,” said Superintendent Rick Seebeck.

Students in grades kindergarten through eighth will be placed in cohort groups to limit contacts. The complexity of the high school schedule makes this impossible, so staggered passing times will be employed to prevent a mass exit from classrooms that would force students into close proximity in the hallways. Directional controls will be used so that kids will not be passing face-to-face in the hall.

Lunches will be served in classrooms, but the cafeteria will be open and available for small groups, but students will be required to spread out.  A schedule is being created to allow students to occasionally eat in the cafeteria. Mask breaks will also be built into the daily schedule. This will allow junior and senior high students time within the day to take their masks off safely. Students in grades kindergarten through sixth are not required to wear a mask in the classroom so they will not need mask breaks. Older students will be able to go outside to take their masks off at safe social distances. A large tent will be available at both the junior and senior high for inclement weather.

Students will be screened every day. If they exhibit symptoms they will go to the nurse’s office where medical aides will recheck their temperature and rescreen them for symptoms. If it is believed that a student is ill their parents will be asked to come pick them up. Sick students will not be allowed to take the bus home.

The district is committed to provide access to grade-level instruction and high quality standards-aligned instructional material in every subject for every student no matter what option, in-person or online, the family chooses. Based upon a survey conducted last spring the district realizes that about 35 percent of the homes in the school district do not have high speed internet. The online instructional model will not require the downloading of large amounts of material, so it will not consume large amounts of data for those on limited plans.

Seebeck estimates that about 15 percent of the student population will enroll for the 100 percent online option. That will probably amount to about 200 students. Seebeck mentioned that most of the families enrolling in the online option have solved the internet connectivity issue in their homes. If we are forced to go to total virtual instruction we will see a big issue with internet connectivity and we will have to roll out a plan to have mobile hotspots for access throughout the county.

Wi-Fi is currently available in all of the school parking lots and it actually reaches out beyond the lots into the neighborhoods. Seebeck also said that next week they would be “installing some equipment that will push the signal even further.” The district is also working on a plan that may allow them to bring Wi-Fi to other parts of the county possibly on busses. “Our tech people continue to work on these issues, said Seebeck.

The districts owns Chrome Books that can be reimaged and repurposed to allow them to be taken home in the event of a total shutdown of face-to-face instruction, “but I doubt that we have enough for everyone who does not have a device,” said Seebeck. He also mentioned that it is difficult to obtain Chrome Books right now. Even though Gladwin is in better shape than a lot of districts financially there is a limit to what the district can afford to spend on new technology.

Seebeck is excited to get the new school year started and has a message for everyone. “Just because something is different doesn’t necessarily mean that it is bad, and if we keep that as our outlook we will be fine.” He used the example of this year’s graduation to make his point. “You couldn’t get any more different than our graduation was this year, but I would argue that ceremony was every bit as good and in my mind better than anything we had done in the past.”

“We have become experts at making lemonade out of lemons this year and we will do it again,” concluded Seebeck.

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