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When will Michigan K-12 schools return to normal?

Posted at 11:21 AM, Jan 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-06 11:21:06-05

WXYZ-TV — If you're wondering when your child's school day will "get back to normal," you may be waiting a while.

Though health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci have shared some optimism recently about schools amid the pandemic there's still a lot in flux and it's too early to give the blanket green light most of us are hoping for; the day when all students are back in the classroom as it was pre-pandemic.

That likely might not happen until spring or even later as vaccine roll-outs continue, albeit slowly, around the country.

Michigan high school students were allowed to return to in-person learning Dec. 21 under updated MDHHS guidelines following a brief hiatus to remote learning only during what Gov. Whitmer called "a three week pause" to get case numbers under control. But with winter break, many districts are just now resuming those high school classes this week.

Action News spoke to district leaders in Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne counties to see where they are and how they're feeling starting the winter semester.

In Michigan, each school district is able to decide its own learning plan during the pandemic as long as the state remains in Phase 4 or higher of re-opening; Phases 1-3 would require all schools move remote.

“In Macomb County the 21 superintendents, we meet regularly. We meet once a week with the health department," said Fraser Public Schools Superintendent Carrie Wozniak.

Fraser resumed classes Monday after the holiday break, and is still currently working under a hybrid model. Middle and high school students start their second semester Jan. 25 when schedules will again adjust for either face-to-face or online learning based on a family's pre-selected preference.

Of the 2,4000 elementary students in the district, 650 are learning online while most are back in the classroom.

“It took a lot of preparation to get things ready to open up those doors to have kids back in school. And I think that’s important for parents to understand," Wozniak told Action News.

All students in the Fraser district have access to a device for online learning, something available to them even back in March when the pandemic first started, something Wozniak said she was grateful for.

Hamtramck Schools has also been able to provide each district family with at least one device for online learning, starting this summer and fall, a major feat said Superintendent Jaleelah Ahmed, given poverty in the district. The district also provided families hot-spots for those without Internet connectivity.

The district began the school year virtually in September, however it offered in-person services for students with the greatest needs like those learning English as a second language.

"It was running smoothly and we had to pause with the in-person for the students with the greatest needs due to the increased rates and cases that had occurred," Ahmed said of the shift back to fully remote the last week of October.

"We're looking and studying the cases, the risk level. Currently we are still at a high risk level," she said. "We do not want to disrupt the learning the learning for our students and our families. We don't want to go back to in-person just to go back to virtual."

When it comes to standardized testing, Ahmed expects the pandemic will have an impact on student performance.

“We are looking at students lagging in the areas of math and reading. We are foreseeing that we are going to have a COVID gap," she said, something the district saw in the summer too; Ahmed feels teachers should be spending every moment they have on instruction time as opposed to prep for standardized assessments, which she feels should be postponed due to the pandemic.

"They should be suspended," she said.

In Oakland County, K-12 in the Troy School District is also fully remote. High schoolers are not set to return to in-person learning until at least Jan. 25 due to exams scheduled the week prior, which students will take virtually.

Back in October when cases were ticking upward, Superintendent Dr. Rich Machesky said the district faced staffing issues.

“We had a high number of staff and students that had to be quarantined at any given period of which put a huge strain on our ability to cover classrooms," something Dr. Machesky said the district is now more prepared to address.

Another concern he has -- and one other superintendents echo, is consistency regardless of where students are learning.

“It’s not good for anyone to have to start and stop.”

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

Visit our The Rebound Detroit, a place where we are working to help people impacted financially from the coronavirus. We have all the information on everything available to help you through this crisis and how to access it.