By Simon Albaugh
Hamtramck, Mich. – Last night, the Board of Education unanimously voted to approve a COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan. It involves careful steps that all respond to the broader state of Michigan’s COVID-19 Response as the fall semester moves forward in early September.
The plan was presented by Carol Paul, the Programs Specialist for Hamtramck Public Schools. She described a plan that will start out with remote learning in the first weeks of school, because of Wayne County’s phase in its Coronavirus Response.
Wayne County is in what’s known as Phase 4 in the process of reopening. This means that the spread of the virus is still happening, but that the Epidemic for that given region of the State of Michigan has had a clear decrease in new cases.
The COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan
“This plan is the result of long-term planning and work by our Budget and Restart Team, which includes parents, teachers, staff members, administrators and members of the HPS leadership team,” said Superintendent Jaleelah Ahmed. “The team utilized guidance from the CDC, the State of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Education in the creation of the plan, and additionally consulted with health and safety experts who helped tailor a plan that fit the needs of the HPS community.”
Schooling will be online during this phase but will include more than just assignments and deadlines. Students will be undergoing what Carol Paul calls a hybrid of synchronous and asynchronous learning – meaning some instruction will be live, while other instruction will be self-directed.
For upper level students, instruction will be carried out over a block schedule, in order to allow students to receive the synchronous learning. The block schedule will allow for three courses each day.
HPS will also be facilitating an opportunity for in-person help for the most at-risk students who are struggling during this period of instruction. Known as Learning Lab, this will be an opportunity for struggling students to find additional support. A few students who are still new to the English Language, or those who are new to the district, will be automatically sent an invitation to participate in the Learning Lab.
Part of what the public school district seeks for all phases is Social and Emotional Support for students. Because this is a stressful time period for everyone, there will be a screening process for everyone in order to determine the needs of students’ emotional wellbeing, as well as what the school district calls “Social Emotional focused lessons” that will be a part of daily instruction.
Once Wayne County is in phase 5 of reopening, meaning that the spread of the Novel Coronavirus is actively being contained, then the school district will be able to start in-person instruction. Parents are able to choose 100% online courses for their children during phase 5 of the region’s reopening process.
The in-person instruction will have Personal Protective Equipment requirements. Parents will be asked to monitor their children’s health during this time, while staff will be asked to monitor their own health throughout phase 5. In addition to these measures, commonly touched surfaces will be disinfected every four hours, with visitors being limited and asked to wash their hands upon entry.
Social and Emotional wellbeing will be just as much a priority during phase 5 as it was during phase 4, as well.
A difficult effect of the pandemic is that many aspects of Special Education will be difficult to create following the plan of the general student population. According to Special Services Director Menham Aouad, the various school districts that coordinate with HPS have all either not responded to communications, or they have kept their special education to being solely online for the coming schoolyear.
Unfortunately, this could mean that many of the services that are normally offered during the school year will not be available for parents of students with special needs. However, Aouad talked about a coaching process for parents to be able to provide caretaking coaching for their children who are medically compromised.
How the Plan was Built
A team composed of the combined Budget Task Force and Restart Task Force was joined in order to create the plan. According to communication through the Hamtramck School District Website, the plan focused on assessing students from vulnerable communities, and how the district could best serve students within an equitable framework.
HPS Board of Education President Evan Major described the process of building the plan as something that involved every stakeholder in public education – Parents, Teacher’s Unions, secondary staff, etc. And Evan seems pretty impressed by the result.
“That process with leaders of stakeholder groups, unions, parents, teachers and staff people from all parts of the buildings, they were able to make a plan that was going beyond the state’s recommendations for safety,” said Board President Major.
The meeting did not mention a timeframe for each phase of the plan, since it is contingent upon the surrounding region. However, as the situation evolves, the plan does provide for a means of responding to changes in the State of Michigan’s Coronavirus response.
What made this plan difficult, Major explained, is that specific school districts were not given strong support from the State and Federal Government.
“The state left it up to local schools to make a lot of these decisions,” Major said. “And these decisions require additional resources to be done right. Not all school districts are willing to or able to access those resources in the same way.”