Schools starts Monday, August 31
By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
You don’t often see people wearing masks on Zoom calls. Yet, every member of the Oxford School Board was wearing one at its semi-virtual meeting Aug. 18.
The board met in person for the first time since March, in the board room at 10 N. Washington. Each member had their own laptop set up so they could still be seen over the video conference. Other administrators, who were not wearing masks, joined remotely.
“It is good to see your faces,” said Board President Tom Donnelly. “Well, part of them. I can tell you’re smiling behind some of those masks.”
Donnelly felt it was important, if they are asking kids to be in school, that the board should set an example while following protocols in-person.
There were no major changes to the COVID Preparedness Plan, but there were some interesting announcements and discussions.
Superintendent Tim Throne shared that about 1,000 seated Oxford students transferred to Oxford Virtual Academy. That opens up a lot of elbow room for the in-person buildings.
Ken Weaver, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, said they are trying to maintain high school and middle school class sizes at 25 students to help maintain social distancing, and most elementary classes will be under 25 “by quite a bit.”
Weaver said he and building administrators are working hard, with all the last minute transfers, to reorganize all the classes and schedules.
Weaver presented the results of a staff return to school survey conducted Aug. 17.
Of about 700 employees, 436 responded to the survey (including teachers, paraprofessionals, kitchen staff, transportation staff and administrators).
Asked about their comfort level returning to face-to-face instruction, 21% said they were “very comfortable and ready to return.” 36% said they were “somewhat comfortable and ready to return.” 21% said they were “somewhat uncomfortable and would rather not return to face-to-face” and 23.5% said they were “very uncomfortable and would rather not return.”
In the survey, highest concerns were about responding to symptomatic students and social distancing in the classrooms, common areas and buses.
Throne reiterated that there were other employees besides classroom teachers responded they were uncomfortable returning to in-person.
Human Resources Director David Pass said that 15 Oxford teachers applied for OVA positions. “With the amount of growth that OVA has seen, we were fortunate to be able to offer a position to every one of those applicants,” he said. Of those 15 who initially expressed interest, only 11 accepted.
Pass said this low number compared to those that responded they were uncomfortable returning, might have been because the district was not able to guarantee in-person teachers would be able to get their old jobs back.
Pass also cleared up a misconception that OVA teachers are paid less than in-person teachers. The pay schedule for OVA teachers is actually higher, “simply because they have a longer work year.”
In-person teachers work a 186 day calendar year while most OVA teaching positions are 204 days. “OVA’s salary schedule was built off of the OEA salary schedule. We took the exact same salaries for the 186 days and built on top of that to account for the additional 18 work days,” Pass said.
Earlier this month The Oxford Leader asked parents on social media whether parents would send their children back to school for in-person or keep them home for virtual learning.
“Face to face,” Erica Schroeder DiCosmo responded, “she’s a senior, I presented the options, we had many discussions and she chose to go back. She wants whatever senior moments she can get. I think if I had younger children, the decision would have been far more difficult.”
Kristy Hickson-Gerke said, “Undecided. Two high school students. One is OSEC and one is leaning toward OVA. At least OVA will provide continuity. It seems inevitable that the education process will be interrupted daily (with all the safety measures) and longer if/when (God forbid) the first child, teacher or family member tests positive. I’m frankly surprised that I’ve read about sending kids back for social reasons. Do you think kids can socialize in classrooms with them spaced at least 3 feet apart AND while wearing masks? Add in the staggered lunches and passing times and no lockers?”
Jennifer Innes said, “We are doing OVA only because they changed the rules on masks and added plexiglass. My girls all made the choice on their own. I have a child with an IEP so, I am in hopes she will continue to get help, but am unaware of any of that at this time. We will do our best though, until school can be school and not a awkward 8 hour day.”
Kimberly Sikora said, “Homeschool. I don’t agree with my Kindergartener and 1st grader having to wear a mask all day and stay in the same classroom space for 95% of the day.”
At the end of the meeting, Donnelly defended the schools’ plan, saying they have gone above and beyond what the CDC and the State of Michigan requires. “The goal is not to make sure no one ever gets sick again. The goal is to mitigate, do everything in our power and control to keep our children and our faculty safe.”
Some have asked why Oxford decided not to go all-virtual when that is what the majority of schools in Oakland County have done. Donnelly says the question they should be asking is,
“If the governor hasn’t gone back to Phase 3 and we’ve been in Phase 4 for weeks and weeks now, and if the governor has given us a road map on how to go back to school, why did 20 other school districts in Oakland County all change their mind in the last two and a half weeks when three weeks ago they were all going live? They’re the ones that changed.”
Donnelly concluded, “At the end of the day we have thousands of families that need their children to go to school. They just can’t stop working. Two incomes need to put food and clothes in and on those kids. And we as a district are saying, okay. We have worked really hard to make the school as safe as it can be and let’s do this.”
School starts next week, on Monday, Aug. 31.