Dowagiac unveils distance learning plans

Published 5:00 pm Friday, April 17, 2020

DOWAGIAC — Plans for student learning in the wake of COVID-19 are moving forward.

On Thursday, Dowagiac Union Schools announced its distance learning plans had been approved by Lewis Cass Intermediate School District. By the evening, the district plan and grade level plans were viewable on the school’s website. Dowagiac Union Schools will begin the academic plan Monday. Michigan school districts were given a deadline of no later than April 28, by guidelines laidout by the govenor.

“These materials will be sent to parents by way of email, Facebook and on the district website,” said Superintendent Jonathan Whan. “We will be sending out a phone and text message directing parents to check out the information at these different locations.”

According to the district’s plan, Dowagiac will be providing three primary modes of learning, including a learning packet style, which will be available for printing off or pickup at students’ buildings, a second option of learning packets and electronic instruction and a full electronic distance learning method. Completed packets will need to be turned back into the students’ respective schools on a scheduled basis.

From April 2 to 15, parents and guardians were contacted through an online survey or direct phone calls to access what method they would need or prefer. Information was also collected about families’ access to broadband and learning devices, according to the district plan.

“If families have access to quality internet service but lack learning devices, the district is prepared to provide them with access to a Chromebook,” the plan stated. “If they lack both connectivity and a device, the district has established hotspots in the community and can provide Chromebooks as well.”

At the middle school and high school levels, staff will provide 30 minutes of lessons and learning activities that will be posted on Google Classroom in math, English language arts, science, social studies and in elective courses.

As part of the approved plan, Dowagiac Union Schools will establish hot spots on the exterior of each of its district’s buildings, which will cost $13,000 of the general fund. The Wi-Fi will be available at parking lots where families may access online learning.

According to the plan, the grading system is focused on there being no educational harm to students. Students’ academic progress will have a starting point of March 13.

This “no educational harm” philosophy is part of the executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Whan said.

“The executive order 2020-35 clearly states students cannot be negatively harmed due to our distance learning or judged for where students were at when all this started,” he said. “If the student doesn’t have the ability to complete all the packets, their grades shouldn’t go down. We need kids to give their best efforts to be engaged to be committed and working hard, but there is going to be grace given.”

School employees will continue to be paid at the same level of weekly compensation prior to the COVID-19 situation.

According to the district plan, office hours will be provided to students and parents twice per week as a means of contacting teachers, who will provide weekly feedback to parents.

Whan said it is critical that everybody is engaged and committed to the distance learning process.

“Our teachers are I know parents will be I know students will be,” Whan said. “It’s a triangle effect. The triangle is the strongest geometric shape. The triangle has the three points with the student at the center. Everybody has to be doing their part.”

To address mental health, Dowagiac Union Schools will also have counselors, teachers and staff making weekly contact with students and parents.

According to a letter sent home to Dowagiac Union High School and Dowagiac Middle School families, the targeted last day of school is scheduled for Wednesday, June 10.

Also addressed in the plan, Dowagiac Union Schools announced it will plan to begin the 2020-21 school year earlier, which would include a pre-Labor Day start.