Photo Provided - A look at what the Three Rivers Community Schools' Return to Learn plan will look like for the upcoming school year. The plan details the instruction that will occur based on what phase of the MI Safe Start plan the district is in once school begins Sept. 8.

TR school board approves Return to Learn plan

First day of school pushed back to Sept. 8

THREE RIVERS — Just weeks before the school year is slated to start in Three Rivers, there is now a plan for what it will look like.

During Wednesday’s special meeting of the Three Rivers Community Schools Board of Education, the district’s Return to Learn plan was approved by a 5-2 vote. Secretary Anne Riopel and Trustee Kevin Hamilton were the dissenting votes.

In a 5-2 vote later in the meeting along the same voting lines, the board also approved an amendment to the academic calendar that would push back the first day of school for the entire district to Tuesday, Sept. 8. Moag alluded to a speech Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to make Saturday as one of the reasons the date was pushed back.

The plan, as approved by the board, will see students in grades Pre-K through 5 receive in-person classes five days a week and students in grades 6 through 12 receive in-person instruction two days a week and remote learning three days a week in Phases 4 and 5 of the MI Safe Start Plan. The Kalamazoo region, which Three Rivers is in, is currently in Phase 4 of the state’s plan.

If the region is in Phases 1 through 3 of MI Safe Start, remote learning via Google Classroom and See Saw will occur for all grades with teachers providing live and video lessons with individual and small group supports.

For Pre-K through fifth grade students in Phase 4 and 5, they will be in self-contained classrooms with specials teachers, parapros and special education teachers visiting the classrooms. For grades 6-12, there will be two cohorts: A “Purple Team” that would attend in-person Monday and Tuesday with remote learning the rest of the week, and a “White Team” that would attend in-person Thursday and Friday with remote learning the remaining days of the week. Attendance and participation is required during remote instruction days. Chromebooks for remote learning will be provided to students who need them.

Those who opt out of face-to-face instruction will be enrolled in a virtual learning program through Lincoln Learning, with students being mentored by a TRCS staff member but no TRCS teachers teaching classes. Superintendent Ron Moag said despite TRCS teachers not leading classes with the virtual option, the “thoroughly vetted” program offers courses with Michigan-qualified teachers facilitating the classes with the “same standards we’re teaching in the classroom.” Those enrolled in face-to-face instruction if the state gets rolled back to Phase 3 will receive remote learning facilitated by TRCS teachers, not Lincoln Learning.

Under the Phase 4 and 5 portion of the plan, facial coverings will be required on the bus for all students. In the school setting, students in grades K through 5 will be required to wear them in hallways, common areas, during small group instruction and outdoors, including at recess, while in the classroom, they are strongly recommended, but not required to be worn. For students in grades 6 through 12, facial coverings are required at all times, including outdoors and in the classroom. Meals are excluded from this rule, as are students with a documented medical reason to not wear a facial covering.

Hand washing and hand sanitizer are required throughout the day, while classrooms and common areas, including high touch areas, will be cleaned frequently throughout the day. Social distancing is recommended under Phase 4 and 5 in the plan, but is not required, with desks and tables placed six feet apart “as much as possible.” Breakfast will be available to go and taken to classrooms, while for lunch, elementary students will be served in classrooms, while high school and middle school students will be served in the cafeteria with social distancing. Recess will occur outside when possible and limited to classroom cohorts, and equipment will be cleaned after each use by a classroom.

Phase 6 of the plan would provide traditional in-person classes for 100 percent of students with “health, safety, and operational changes” in place to reduce COVID-19 spread.

Wednesday’s board meeting was held following a public town hall meeting where parents and citizens asked Moag and the district’s leadership team a number of questions covering a wide variety of subjects regarding the plan. However, many residents on social media complained they could not get into the meeting, due to a 250-person limit in the Google Meet room.

Some public comment was had before and after the vote during the board meeting, expressing concern about the plan’s balance of safety and quality, the cost of Lincoln Learning, which Curriculum Director Nikki Nash said was just over $371,000 for the 670 students opting for virtual, and the lack of communication between the district and teachers, parents and the public on how the plan would work.

Board members shared their concerns about the plan before the vote as well. Riopel said after listening to the amount of questions and concerns from both the community and staff members, she was not in favor of going back under the hybrid model.

“I think that our current Return to Learn plan, I have concerns about Lincoln Learning and the cost of it opposed to what we could do with our own teachers and livestreaming five days,” Riopel said. “I have a real concern that we’re financially able to handle the Lincoln Learning as our virtual program, and I think because it’s all part of our plan, I’m not in favor of going back with the hybrid model, and mostly it’s due to concerns that have been raised through our staff, by the community and financially.”

Hamilton agreed, saying he was “not 100 percent confident” that the district was actually ready to start going back to in-person learning.

“I know how hard the team worked to come up with the plan, I just came up with a plan for my district also — worked on it at least — but I just don’t know if we’re ready,” Hamilton said.

Trustee Linda Baker said while the situation is difficult, she said it was important for students, especially in elementary, to have contact with teachers and classmates, but also put an emphasis on safety first.

“This is not perfect, but it won’t be perfect for kids to be home,” Baker said. “There’s going to be a lot of problems with the virtual part of it anyway if it was 100 percent virtual for everybody, and we may be forced back into it too. We’ve got to look at what the CDC says, what the state of Michigan health department says, what the governor says, what we’re looking at in our community, listening to the concerns of parents, which are very important, and trying to adjust to those as best we can.”

Board Vice President Dan Ryan asked Moag what his confidence level was as to the quality of education the district would provide for the school year. Moag said he was confident the district was ready, even with the then-recommendation of the new start date.

During board member comment later in the meeting, Trustee Geraldine Jaramillo asked what would happen if the district did not have personal protective equipment, which the district would provide to students if they need them, in by the start of school on Sept. 8. Treasurer Julia Awe then alluded to the fact that the district only bought enough PPE “for one month,” which Jaramillo commented “wasn’t enough.”

Moag confirmed the district does have enough PPE “through September” and said they would watch its usage, while saying they gave teachers clear masks that are reusable and washable, which he said would be enough “for the entire year.”

“We have plenty of cleaning supplies and sanitation,” Moag said. “When we placed our second order, the lag time that may occur is not great, it’s about seven days, 10 days — I believe we have enough to get started with the school year and watch what usage there is so we don’t stockpile six months’ worth.”

In other business…

  • When asked by a citizen during the public comment period, Ryan addressed comments he made at the board’s Aug. 3 meeting where he used both versions of the n-word when asking Hamilton why the word “wasn’t allowed” in literature but acceptable “in conversations between young Black men on Facebook” during a discussion on the board’s drafting of a social justice letter.
    Ryan said he was “sorry if the language I chose was rather harsh and made some feel uncomfortable,” but said any discussion of racism has “a tendency to create a level of discomfort, and maybe it should.” He said he remains “steadfast and passionate” against the suggestion of banning books, such as To Kill A Mockingbird — which was part of the Aug. 3 discussion even though nothing official has been on the table regarding banning the book — that could be used to “stimulate real discussion about racism.” He told the citizen that their concern about his language was “taken out of context” and that he “apologizes for nothing of what I said.”

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

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