ISD finalizes COVID response plan

Plan: Virtual learning for Phase 1-3, hybrid model for Phase 4

CENTREVILLE — The St. Joseph County Intermediate School District unveiled their COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan for the 2020-21 school year during their monthly meeting via teleconference Monday.

The 94-page plan outlines what measures the ISD is prepared to take to keep their students safe from COVID-19 as students return to school this fall. The plan covers items from personal protective equipment, hygiene and cleaning to testing protocols, their response to positive cases and transportation.

In what could be a preview of the learning model most school districts in St. Joseph County will go by for their plans to return to the classroom, ISD students will utilize a distance learning model for Phases 1-3 of the MI Safe Start Plan, while in Phase 4, a hybrid model of in-person and distance learning will be put in place that would put students into two groups. Phase 5 would be full in-person education “with additional safety components in place.”

According to the plan, in Phases 1-3, distance learning would be conducted in a number of different ways. At the Pathfinder Center, modes of assessment and feedback, teaching, and how instruction is provided would be based on the needs of individual students as specified in their individualized education program (IEP). A “hybrid of multiple modes of learning” would be utilized in ISD-run programs, including online learning and resources, Google Classroom, Google Hangout, email contacts, phone calls, packets, checklists, instructional games and project-based learning activities.

School materials, such as paper, pencils and crayons will be offered to families, and technological devices will be sent home with students or delivered as needed if it is determined that schools are moving into Phases 1-3. Packets would be utilized when devices are not a viable option.

For Career and Technical Education, teachers will determine which modes of remote and virtual learning each student will have access to, and will make online software available when applicable to enable remote learning. Students will be expected to check in and report to their class during their usual class time unless otherwise dictated by their local district’s Phase 3 plan. Students will be expected to work on assignments an average of one to three hours a day, and teachers will be keeping track of attendance.

For food service in Phases 1-3, meals would be delivered once a week to those students needing breakfast and lunch, and the transportation department would be utilized if funds allow to package and deliver food to students. The weekly drop-offs, according to the plan, would also be utilized for delivery of learning materials.

For Phase 4’s hybrid model, one group, “Cohort A,” will attend in-person classes on Monday and Tuesday and attend Wednesday through Friday via virtual learning. The second group, “Cohort B,” would attend Monday through Wednesday virtually and attend in person on Thursday and Friday. Wednesdays would be used for deep cleaning to reduce spread.

ISD Superintendent Teresa Belote said they would re-assess the hybrid model situation “about four weeks in” and consider “scaling up” at that time.

According to the plan, in Phase 4, face coverings are required on the bus and common areas for all students, and must be worn in classrooms by grades 6-12. Grades K-5 must wear a face covering unless they are “with only their class throughout the day.” Face coverings are not recommended for children ages 3 and 4, and should not be used for children 2 years old and under. Any student that has a medically-approved reason with a doctor’s note or is incapacitated or unable to remove the face covering without assistance is not required to wear a face covering.

Staff are also required to wear face coverings except for meals or if the staff member cannot medically tolerate a face covering, as determined by medical guidance. Pre-K and special education teachers, according to the plan, should consider wearing clear masks. Staff members will be provided a window mask and/or a second cloth or additional windowed mask, and will also receive a face shield upon request.

Cleaning in buildings in Phase 4 would be done at least every four hours on frequently touched surfaces, such as light switches, doors, benches and bathrooms.

Due to what the plan called “the time and interruption to education” screening students on site would cause, the Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency recommended that parents screen their students prior to sending them to school. The plan recommends setting up an agreement or form for parents that outlines the responsibility of the parent and the school. A list would be provided of what parents should look for when screening.

Symptomatic students and staff sent home with COVID-19 symptoms, according to the plan, should be kept home until they have tested negative or have been released from isolation. In the event of a diagnosed case of COVID-19, “immediate efforts” would be made to contact any close contacts so they may be quarantined for 14 days at home, under guidance from BHSJ, and be closely monitored for symptoms. The ISD will be meeting weekly with BHSJ and will cooperate with them on responding to any positive tests.

For CTE students in Phase 4, there are different protocols for morning and evening sessions. For the AM sessions, Colon and Mendon students would have face-to-face classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, while Three Rivers students would have classes on Thursdays and Fridays. For PM sessions, Centreville, Colon and White Pigeon students will be face-to-face on Monday, Wednesday and Friday the first week and Tuesday and Thursday the next week, while Burr Oak and Sturgis students will have face-to-face Tuesday and Thursday the first week and Monday, Wednesday and Friday the next. All students will report virtually/remotely on days they do not have face to face classes.

Belote said there are still multiple challenges the ISD is facing when it comes to the next school year, including budgetary and legislative concerns. However, she commended the work of her planning committee for putting together the document.

“I’m really just so grateful for the team, and despite the challenges, the can-do, never give up attitude of the team that we’re working with, both internal and external partners, I couldn’t be more proud to be part of this community,” Belote said.

The plan was approved unanimously 3-0, with Treasurer Geoffrey Smith and Trustee Terry Cropper not in attendance.

In other business…

  • The board received a presentation from Pathfinder Center Principal Ben Oakley and Special Education Transition Coordinator Joetta Cherry on the Young Adult Programs curriculum.
  • The board approved a resolution affirming their commitment to “stand against any and all acts of racism, disrespect, violence and inequitable treatment of any person” and create “more equitable and inclusive schools” for all children in St. Joseph County.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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