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“Return to Learn Plan” – Guidance for In-Person Learning – Factors to Consider

On October 2nd, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s
Executive Orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic are no longer valid. Since then, I’ve
received numerous emails from parents requesting an update on the West Bloomfield School District’s “Return to Learn Plan.” Some parents would like us to immediately open our schools for in-person learning in all grades, K-12. Other parents, given the current increase in COVID-19 cases, are strongly urging us to exercise continued caution. Because of the many viewpoints, I want to review how we are implementing our “Return to Learn” plan and what guidance and related factors are being considered as we determine the most appropriate, safe, healthy and educationally sound learning model to follow.

From a legal perspective, the fact that the MI Supreme Court struck down the 1945 statute that
Governor Whitmer used in issuing her Executive Orders related to COVID-19, does not impact
the West Bloomfield School District’s educational plans. Our “COVID-19 Preparedness and
Response Plan
” and our “Extended COVID-19 Learning Plan” were both approved by our Board of Education in response to the legislatively enacted law, Public Act 149 of 2020, not Governor Whitmer’s Executive Orders. Public Act 149 mandates that school districts develop educational plans addressing how to safely and effectively provide educational services for students during this pandemic. The Board of Education has the obligation and authority to adopt policies to educate all students while keeping our stakeholders safe. Consequently, unless or until we receive additional guidance from lawful authorities, we have the responsibility to maintain the safety protocols articulated in our Board-approved “Return to Learn Plan” which was required as part of the “MI Safe Start” a plan approved by the legislature. We also work closely with and follow guidance from the Oakland County Health Department (OCHD). OCHD has issued the “Guidance for In-person Instruction” that helps determine when it is safe to offer in-person instruction.

One of the challenges, however, is that the guidance provided by “MI Safe Start” and that provided by “Guidance for In-person Instruction” are not consistent. For example, the “MI Safe Start” plan categorizes COVID-19 spread risk in terms of 6 phases. The OCHD “Guidance for In- Person Instruction” categorizes COVID-19 spread risk in terms of 6 risk determination levels.

MI Safe Start Plan (State) Guidance for In Person Instruction (OCHD)
1-Uncontrolled Growth E-Highest Risk
2-Persistent Spread D-Very High Risk
3-Flattening C-High Risk
4-Improving B-Medium High Risk
5- Containing A-Medium Risk
6-Post Pandemic Low Risk

 

By the State’s Phases, our area is currently in Phase 4 (cases, hospitalizations and deaths are
clearly declining with the guidance calling for “continued distancing, face coverings, safe
workplace practices”). By the OCHD’s County Level Risk Determination levels, our area is
currently in Level D-Very High Risk (70 - 150 cases per million; 10 - 15 % positivity with
guidance calling for “Consider reduced density allowed with strict mitigation measures”).

In addition, we also receive a “Weekly COVID-19 Report” from OCHD. This report lists trend
data including: total confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases; average daily cases; percentage
of cases hospitalized; positivity percentages; health care capacity; and testing, tracing and
containment of COVID-19. The latest report received October 22nd shows Oakland County at
the C-Medium High-Risk level, with worsening trend data moving us closer to D-High Risk level.

Consequently, given current conditions of Phase 4 and risk level C, our “Return to Learn Plan”,
calls for the following instructional models to continue:

  • Hybrid Instruction (a blend of in-person and virtual learning) for Grades K – 8
  • Virtual learning for Grade 9 – 12
  • Self-contained special education classes for all levels taught in-person
  • Lakers Online (optional totally virtual learning) for K – 12

Once we get to Phase 5-Improving or A-Medium Risk level, we can seriously consider in-person learning for all grades, K – 12. In the meantime, we continue to study the COVID-19 trend data, analyze what’s working and what needs improvement in our current educational plans in order to prepare a thoughtful forward thinking actions, including either going totally remote or returning to face to face learning for all students.

I would like to thank all staff, students and parents for your continued patience and
understanding as we work to navigate these complicated and ever-changing conditions. The
health, safety and welfare of students and staff remain our top priorities.

Please look after yourselves and one another. Mask Up, Stay Safe, Save Lives.