Following hours of public comments in a special-called meeting Thursday evening, board leaders with the Eagle Mountain Saginaw ISD have voted to start the school year with full remote instruction.
The meeting was another chance for community members to weigh in on EMSISD's "Reconnect 2020" plan, district leaders said. Under that plan, the school year was scheduled to start on Aug. 20 with options of both virtual and in-person instruction.
The newly approved plan will still begin the school year on Aug. 20 but with full remote instruction. Options for in-person and choice remote learning will begin on Sept. 8, with administration officials planning to monitor local conditions surrounding COVID-19 leading up to that date," an email from district spokesperson Megan Overman said. "The meeting adjourned at 12:25 am on Friday, August 7. Additional details regarding the plan and information regarding specific programs will be shared later today."
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Prior to the meeting, families were emailed a letter explaining the purpose of the meeting.
“The purpose of the meeting is to provide an additional opportunity for the Board to hear from the community about all aspects of the plan, including the school calendar,” the email stated in part. “During the meeting, Trustees will first invite public comment about the plan, then may discuss any potential changes including the school start date and/or the way we reopen schools this year. Trustees invite and welcome anyone who wishes to share their opinion to sign up to speak in person at Thursday’s meeting.”
A petition recently launched on change.org implored EMSISD leadership to reconsider the current plan. Instead, supporters of the petition are asking the district to start with remote learning only and return face-to-face on Sept. 28.
“Let it be known that we all want to return to school. Furthermore, the decisions that superintendents and school board officials are faced with are truly unprecedented - there is no decision that will satisfy everyone. We are also completely empathetic to the challenges that parents are facing every day COVID-19 exists; many of us are parents of students as well,” the petition states. “However, teachers are struggling with feeling like they have been completely ignored and are voiceless as it pertains to the school opening decisions that have been made.”
The petition has received nearly 800 signatures as of Thursday afternoon. Cheri Isaacs, a French teacher at Chisholm Trail High School, said the petition was started by her husband.
"We’re looking for a data driven approach to opening school and having that time, that buffer will allow us that time to see what happens with numbers and hospitalizations. As long as that trend goes down, hopefully it can get to a point where it would be safe to reopen," Isaacs said.
Isaacs, along with two other fellow teachers Thursday, told NBC 5 they planned to speak at the Thursday night meeting.
One of those teachers was MaryBeth Lee.
"I’ve spent my entire career making school a safe place for my students, and it kills me to say we should not be opening our campus because I desperately want to be in the classroom," Lee said. "This is longest I’ve been outside of the classroom since 1988. The school is my life, but I want to live and I want them to live. It is not worth the risk to their lives or to my life or to my colleague’s lives when we have a safe alternative with remote learning."
Rachel Head teaches 11th grade U.S. history. She also supports starting the school year virtually, adding it will look different than how it was handled in the spring when schools first closed.
Head said she feels more prepared to teach virtually now that there has been more time to prepare.
"In the spring, teachers were doing triage. We had an emergency, we put a band-aid on it and we made something happen. My lessons weren’t as much about rigor and relevance as checking in on the emotional and well being of my students," she said. "I really feel we need to open virtually, because it’s only a matter of time. It’s not if, it’s when a school or an entire district gets shut down. Why not have that already established routine before we try to go back?"
However, some families hoped that the district would not divert from their current plans.
Kristy Moon is the mother of two students at Saginaw High School. While she said her older child would likely do well with online learning, this may not be the case for her son.
“He has ADHD and for him to sit in a room inside my house trying to maintain attention over a long period of time on his own is not possible,” Moon said. “I don’t think that COVID-19 is going to go away and how long are we going to delay our kids going back into the building? It’s not going to go away in three weeks, six weeks, six months. Are we just going to delay our children’s lives? Their education?”
Moon went on to say she's concerned the academic achievement gap would grow larger if in-person learning is further delayed.
"Some children are going to thrive and they’re going to be fine, but others are going to fall further and further behind," she said. "I do understand the perspective of the teachers as well. I just think that I can trust the district to put safety measures into place. I really do. I think they can get it together."
At Thursday's meeting, board members heard input from parents and teachers for hours.
Almost all the teachers said now is not the time to return to class. They led a rally before the meeting.
"We are trained as teachers to use data to drive our instruction. Why aren't we using it to open the schools," said teacher Rachel Head.
Some parents spoke in favor of reopening schools. One said we have to learn to live with the virus.
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