Buchanan Community Schools hosts virtual town hall with parents

BUCHANAN — The new superintendent of Buchanan Community Schools, Patricia Robinson, welcomed more than 140 participants to a town hall meeting on Google Meet Thursday evening. The meeting, hosted from 6 p.m. to just past 8 p.m., was intended to be an opportunity to for the Bucks administrators to introduce the current drafts of back to school plans to curious, and concerned, families.

Mark Kurland, executive director of academic services, and Michael Dunn, principal at Moccasin Elementary, were on hand to go through the Buchanan Community Schools Return to School Roadmap with attendees. The most recent update to the roadmap, dated Aug. 5, was presented to the meeting and is posted on the school system’s website.

Parents and guardians expressed their concerns and asked questions through the chat feature of Google Meet throughout the meeting, and questions were addressed the leaders of the town hall as they went.

The roadmap includes “Option #1: In-person instruction” and “Option #2: Remote learning.” Under the in-person learning instruction, the roadmap said BCS is developing a plan to fit the requirements set forth in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “MI Safe Schools Roadmap.” The plan notes that remote learning may be required if there is a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.

Students are divided into two age categories under the remote learning plan category. For students in Kindergarten through fourth grade, a remote learning option will be made available through the schools. For students in fifth through 12th grade, the Buchanan Virtual Academy is option available.

“BVA will provide an online education program that offers a rigorous curriculum led by non-Buchanan teachers who are highly qualified in their subject areas,” the roadmap said.

If Michigan stays in Phases 4 through 6 of reopening, where schools can educate students within the brick and mortar classrooms, many changes will be coming to Buchanan Community Schools.

One example that concerned many parents was the requirement that in Phase 4, facial coverings and masks would be required for students and all staff.

Students enrolled in pre-K through fourth grade would be required to wear masks or facial coverings, “Unless they remain with their cohort throughout the day with no close contact with other classes,” according to the roadmap.

All students from pre-K through 12th grade would wear face masks in the hallways and common areas, and fifth through 12th graders would be required to wear masks in their classrooms. All students would be required to wear masks on buses.

The mask restrictions would loosen if Michigan moves into Phase 5 of Whitmer’s reopening plan.

About a half hour into the meeting, Kurland read some of the submitted questions from parents.

Questions throughout the meeting concerned exceptions to the mask rule, including concerning students diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety.

He confirmed during lunches and during a lunch-recess, fifth-grade through 12th grade- students would be able to remove their masks to eat.

“Please keep in mind that the fifth through 12th [grade] idea for wearing masks is not just Buchanan, that’s a state mandate,” Kurland said.

Later, the administrators kept firm on the mask rule. Kurland said the rule had to be rigid.

Dunn offered ideas for having children wear their masks at home doing activities they enjoyed like gaming or spending time online.

“Build up their comfort with it,” Dunn said. “It’s like anything else, they will practice what you preach.”

Robinson said practicing hygiene with masks, counting out the 20 seconds to wash hands, and to not touching one’s face or others is a way parents could help the schools.

Multiple parents expressed concerns about spacing out fifth graders in their classrooms, bussing, and losing out on athletics if their students enroll in Buchanan Virtual Academy.

Assigned seats would be given to students who rode the bus to school. Buchanan Community Schools recently acquired six disinfecting wands, according to administrators, so they can go through and disinfect surfaces faster.

The school representatives said they would follow Berrien County Health Department recommendations should a student or staff member test positive for COVID-19.

Concerns about the inequity in internet access to do virtual learning were raised later in the meeting.

“As far as packets, we know we have kids who are going to be in a remote place where internet is almost nonexistent,” Dunn said. “If we can’t get internet, and we can’t get a device, we might have to make sure we bridge that gap by giving you some sort of packet.”

As the meeting reached the two-hour mark, the hosts took live questions from parents, including Brian Davidson.

Davidson referenced the Mishawaka High School football and soccer coaches who were diagnosed with COVID-19 shortly after opening up sports practice over the summer. He also said he has children in both the Buchanan Community Schools and South Bend area schools, which are largely beginning their classes remotely.

“I hope and pray that no one’s kid gets sick and not one teacher gets sick,” Davidson said. “Because that’s what’s going to happen. One kid will get sick. One teacher is going to get sick, and then you’re going to shut [school] down. It’s going to be open for a week.”

Robinson responded that the plans, at this point, are fluid.

“I can’t say, or guarantee, you or anyone on this call, that we will not have that,” she said. “Which is why right now we are giving all families options, and I know this is tough. This is really tough. I know you’re going to make the best decision for your family based off of your needs, based off of your kids’ needs, and based off of your feelings right now.”

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