OWOSSO — The Owosso Public Schools Board of Education Monday tabled a vote on the district’s COVID-19 preparedness and response plan, citing a need for additional discussion — as well as further direction from the state on how to proceed.
The tentative plan covers a number of safety precautions the district would take — such as cleaning procedures and the use of personal protective equipment — if and/or when students return for in-person instruction. The district’s “return-to-learn plan,” outlining the various forms of instruction parents and students will have to choose from, has also yet to be finalized by the district, according to Superintendent Andrea Tuttle, though a definitive outline is expected in the coming weeks.
The Board will revisit the proposed COVID-19 plan during its Committee of the Whole meeting at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 10. A plan must be submitted to the Shiawassee Regional Education Service District (RESD) and the state by Aug. 15, Tuttle said.
“I recommend approving this plan, but I also want to caution you that this plan could change tomorrow as the laws, legislation, recommendations and requirements continue to fluctuate throughout the days, minutes and hours,” Tuttle said during Monday’s Board of Education meeting.
The district’s COVID-19 preparedness and response plan was developed in accordance with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Return to School Roadmap, released June 30, which outlines various requirements and provides guidance for schools on how to reopen this fall.
Guidelines within the roadmap fluctuate based upon Gov. Whitmer’s MI Safe Start Plan, which encompasses six phases ranging from uncontrolled growth of the virus — Phase 1 — to post pandemic — Phase 6. Shiawassee County is currently in Phase 4, medium risk.
Under Phase 4, all Owosso staff and students in grades 6-12 participating in face-to-face learning would be required to wear a face mask, except while eating, according to the district’s proposed plan. Kindergarten through fifth grade students would be required to wear masks in common areas, including while riding the bus and walking in school hallways, but they would not have to do so once inside the classroom.
Additional cleaning measures, including the placement of hand sanitizing stations throughout district buildings and the wiping down of desks and shared surfaces after each class period are also proposed as part of the tentative plan.
Board Vice President Shelly Ochodnicky said she could not support the district’s COVID-19 plan Monday, based upon the face mask requirement for students outlined by the state.
“The page-and-a-half document to me is too much to expect of our children when it comes to wearing a mask,” Ochodnicky said. “Personally, if it was up to me, I believe that a mask should be a choice…We should not have to force our children to wear a mask all day in school in 90- to 100-degree classrooms in the top of our middle school.
Ochodnicky said she recently wore a mask while on the top floor of the district’s middle school and, she claimed, with 90-plus degree temperatures it was unbearable.
“I do not think it is fair when we do not have central air conditioning units in our buildings,” she continued. “I do not think it is fair to mask shame our children into wearing these masks.”
Owosso resident Eric Locker also took issue with Owosso’s proposed plan, noting it does not do enough to ensure the safety of all individuals who enter district buildings.
“I understand the arguments for why some level of in-person instruction should be attained; however, I do not believe any of these arguments are sufficient to top the value of a lost student life,” Locker said. “I ask the board to tread carefully as they consider the reopening plans for this fall. At this moment, there’s nothing that I want more than to see the board be successful in their goal of not just educating students, but most importantly, keeping students not only healthy but alive.”
The district will revisit its proposed COVID-19 preparedness and response plan Aug. 10.
In terms of what school may look like this fall, Tuttle indicated the district is still preparing for an in-person option, noting in a recent district-wide survey 75 percent of parents expressed a desire for some form of face-to-face learning. A formal announcement of the district’s “return-to-learn” plans is expected in the coming weeks, she said.
“While many schools in the state of Michigan have already informed parents that they will be starting school with a complete virtual platform, our team of educators is continuing to hold out hope that Owosso will be able to offer options to parents including both in-person instruction as well as a total virtual option,” Tuttle said. “The administrative team continues to work closely with the Owosso Education Association to create plans to safely offer both options and meet the various needs and desires of our families.”
The forms of instruction implemented by the district will also be dependent upon Gov. Whitmer’s MI Safe Start Plan, according to Tuttle. Face-to-face instruction is permitted in phases 4-6. If Shiawassee County were to drop to Phase 3 or lower, all instruction would have to be facilitated online, per state guidelines.