July 29, 2020 Recap

Article | 08.10.2020

By George Kacan, Education Sector Leader, Wightman
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Wednesdays With Wightman Town Hall focused on the MI Safe Schools Roadmap. The meeting focused on "Insights from a Return to School Advisory Council Member."

George Kacan, Regional Director of Architecture and Education Sector Leader, facilitated the session and panel discussion. The panel included Ms. Nicki Britten, Health Officer for Berrien County, and Dr. Thomas Langdon, a part-time Superintendent for Walkerville Schools and an educational consultant for Wightman who provided an educator's perspective to the panel discussion.

Ms. Britten, who holds a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology from Yale University, serves on Governor Whitmer's COVID-19 Return to School Advisory Council. With her education and experience, Britten is uniquely qualified to provide insight into the MI Safe Schools Roadmap.

Britten started by explaining the critical issues Governor Whitmer charged the Council with addressing. The issues included:

  • To provide input to inform the process of returning to school
  • To ensure a smooth & safe transition back to school
  • Act in an advisory capacity to the Governor & the COVID-19 Task Force on Education
  • Develop recommendations regarding the safe, equitable, & efficient K-12 return to school

She also stressed that the Governor expected the Council to adhere to four guiding principles.

    1. Equitable access to learning is a right for each child.
    2. In collaboration with parents, students, & teachers, schools will use data & evidence to prioritize resources for each child.
    3. Teachers & staff will prioritize deep, meaningful relationships to create safe learning environments for each child.
    4. Teachers & staff will empower the value, cultivation of relationships, & belonging of student & parent voice in all aspects of learning & emotional support for families.

Addressing the issues and using the principals as guidelines, the Council recommended to the Governor a six-phase approach that is the MI Safe Start Plan. Currently, in Phase 4, Britten stated the importance of districts interacting with their local public health departments to access the most recent data for their area.

Districts are encouraged to review the most current public health data released by the State of Michigan in the MI Safe Start Map weekly. This link provides access to the Safe Start map https://www.mistartmap.info/.

Weekly discussions with local public health officers throughout the pandemic will provide districts with information and an understanding of local public health trends, such as:

    1. The number of positive cases
    2. The percent of positive cases
    3. Hospital capacity
    4. Testing capacity
    5. Attribution of a case to a cluster or specific event
    6. The approach to COVID positive cases

Britten explained that districts developing back-to-school plans should consider the interrelationship between face coverings, cohorts, and social distancing. Face coverings are one vital element but may be challenging to use at all times, especially with younger students. Keeping students together in cohorts (groups) with limited contact with others can provide needed social interaction. Providing physical separation of students in classrooms and other spaces meet the need for social distancing. The point is that if obstacles to implementation limit any element, districts should consider how using the different components can work to student safety.

Following Britten's presentation, the Town Hall moved to breakout rooms to further discuss three topics.

Breakout Room #1

How are you planning to manage and administer food service for students when they return?

  • Smaller groups the decision is to eat in cafeteria but also looking at lunches in the classrooms – both options are still under consideration
  • Staggered lunchtimes = fewer people, possibly half the grade
  • What type of lunch?
  • Hot lunches – a prototype of what they do in the prison system, hot plates for bringing in food, etc.
  • Any specialized staff training? Yes, training on actually getting meals to classrooms while maintaining recommendations
  • Possibly eating in the gym space and/or using outside lunch space when possible
  • Maintaining as small of groups (cohorts) as possible to limit crossing paths
  • Sending back to school vs. online
  • Challenges for parents to decide what's best, hearing both sides
  • Pros and cons to both
  • Schools struggle to maintain the social distancing in classrooms and spacing


Breakout Room #2

How are you screening students, staff, and guests; also, managing record keeping and protocol if an individual(s) is identified as COVID 19 Positive?

  • Plans to screen every person that walks in the door have not yet determined.
  • Encourage parents and visitors to refrain from coming to school.  Do as much as possible virtually.
  • Limit the number of people in the schools as much as possible.
  • How do you stop parents from sending sick kids to school?  Schools and the government cannot eliminate risk. Recognize, as said by Nicki, "We cannot get the risk to zero."
  • We discussed a web-based GIS app for collecting and managing screening information.
  • Document and record seating charts, classroom, bus, cafeteria, to minimize cohort interaction.
  • How do you control students to act the way we need them to During COVID 19?
  • Schools are asking teachers and parents to self-report and keep records.


Breakout Room #3

Regarding policy and school operating government requirements, what are the challenges that schools are facing?

  • Confidentiality is the biggest challenge
  • How to screen students – privacy screens, do you take temperature, etc?
  • Transportation/Buses
  • How to monitor students before boarding
  • Will parents take their child's temperature before boarding? Is that effective?
  • Are seats assigned, and if so, how are students kept in their seats?
  • What about 3rd party transportation providers? How will the protocol be developed, and who monitors?
  • Parents are definitely divided into "camps" – this is a divisive issue that only intensifies concerns
  • Some districts have a reluctance to screening. The local health department is stating that temperature may provide a false sense of security – Elementary students may not present as quickly as older students and adults
  • Need to develop a plan and go with it based on the best current knowledge
  • Concern, especially among working parents that starting with in-person then having to go virtual will be even more disruptive than in the spring


Our next meeting, on August 12th, will focus on Mental Health, Teacher and Student Response, and Fatigue. Monique Selimos and Jennifer Rollenhagen, both of West Shore Educational Service District, will provide insight into student and teacher mental wellness during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Special guest Jessica Monberg will share her experience as a graduate student that survived COVID-19. It will be an opportunity for participants to interact with Monique, Jennifer, and Jessica as Districts move towards some form of a fall reopening. To attend the next Town Hall, sign up here.

Here is a recording of the session.