Area superintendents introduce phase-in to back to school

NILES — Two area superintendents have announced phase-in approaches to back to school for the fall. With the unique challenges of added safety precautions and protocols due to COVID-19, the superintendents hope the approach better prepares everyone involved for returning to classes, virtually or in-person.

Both Dan Applegate, superintendent of Niles Community Schools, and Karen Weimer, superintendent of Brandywine Community Schools, announced plans to take the week prior to Labor Day to conduct orientation and ready students and parents for what the school year will look like.

“On a normal year, the start of school is controlled chaos,” Weimer said. “It is pressure filled enough that we thought, let’s step back a bit. Having the orientation will allow teachers and students to meet and prepare.”

The multi-step approach also means the two school systems will be able to test and evaluate their protocols with smaller groups of students. If issues arise, administrators and educators will be able to use the Labor Day weekend to pivot plans.

Applegate said the phase-in approach was in response to conversations had with educators prior to presenting and approving the plan.

“We have a lot of safety measures and safety protocols put in place,” Applegate said. “We want to see if the measures will work and keep everyone safe.”

He said the originally anticipated first couple days of school would be shifted to parent-teacher-student conferences.

“We will have everyone come in and take a look,” Applegate said. “Those days, the parents and the teacher will sit down and talk about what instruction will look like, what the classroom looks like, face coverings and address all the kinds of other questions they might have.”

He said this also gives everyone an opportunity to prepare for a shift.

“The unpredictable piece of this is we never know when we might go into remote learning again for Phase 3,” he said. “The teachers, parents and students will have those conversations too. That way, we will be ready. We did not get to have those conversations last year.”

Ensuring students, parents and teachers are ready for a potential shift from being in the classroom to being at home played a part in implementing the phase-in plan. It will give everyone a chance to prepare for a potential shift in the state’s reopening phases from Phase 4, where Michigan currently rests as cases of COVID-19 plateau and decline, to a Phase 3, where positive cases and hospitalizations are on the rise again. Phase 3 is the equivalent of the situation that shuttered schools on March 13, when students left in-person instruction last year.

On Aug. 23, Weimer released plans for what Bobcats families can expect beginning Aug. 31 to Sept. 1.

The Brandywine Community Schools plan also includes orientation, where parents, teachers and students will schedule a time to meet and discuss what in-class and virtual students can expect. At this time, the school will distribute Chromebooks to students who need a device.

Beginning Sept. 2, students will begin returning to classes depending on their grade or last name.

There was an emphasis in both districts’ plans on returning the youngest students first, to get them used to the schedule. Each district posted plans on their websites dividing up which students were to report in-person and who was to check in remotely, on each day.

After the Labor Day weekend, both superintendents intend for the school year to officially begin for everyone on Sept. 8.

“This is new for everybody,” Weimer said. “We are going to do what is right.”

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