Two days in school, three at home? That’s the plan in one Michigan district.


West Bloomfield students aren’t likely to return to classrooms full time in the fall, according to a plan released by the school district Monday. (Shutterstock)

Students in the West Bloomfield School District will only return to school two days a week in the fall to ensure social distancing, possibly foreshadowing a classroom/kitchen table learning hybrid in schools across Michigan.

West Bloomfield is believed to be the first school system in the state to unveil its vision for what education will look like in September when students return to campus amid uncertainty about the coronavirus. While the continued, partial reliance on homebound learning may be shocking to parents, the guidelines are similar to some preliminary plans being discussed by school officials around the state.

“We would prefer back to normal, but this plan assumes that is not the case,” West Bloomfield Superintendent Gerald Hill told Bridge Tuesday.

Under the plan submitted to families for comment this week, West Bloomfield students in kindergarten through 12th grade will attend school two days a week — half of students in each grade on Monday and Tuesday, and the other half Thursday and Friday. On Wednesdays, school staff will “deep clean” school buildings.

On the three days students are not in school buildings, they will have online assignments. Hill estimated students will have a few hours of online school work in the morning, and a few more in the afternoon.

The district said it hopes to provide child care services for families who want it on days their children are not in classrooms. But that child care plan is predicated on West Bloomfield obtaining federal grants. And even then, families likely would have to pick up part of the cost of care, Hill said.

Splitting the number of students in classrooms means that, for example, a classroom with an enrollment of 24 would have 12 students in class at one time, allowing the classrooms to be set up for social-distancing, Hill said.

Hill said the district hopes to provide coronavirus testing for students entering classrooms on a regular basis. 

“Some European countries are testing (students) several times a week,” Hill said.

If there is a second wave of coronavirus infections, the district may close school buildings again and return to fully-remote learning like schools across the state are doing now.

Families who aren’t comfortable having their children return to school in the fall — which will be long before a coronavirus vaccine is expected to be developed and available — will have the option of full homebound learning.

Last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the creation of a task force to make recommendations on how to safely reopen schools this summer or fall. The 20-person panel, made up of parents, teachers, administrators and health officials, “will use a data-informed and science-based approach with input from epidemiologists to determine if, when and how students can return to school this fall and what that will look like,” Whitmer said in a statement.

Hill said West Bloomfield will consider the task force’s recommendations when they are released. “We can modify our plan as we go,” he said, “but we didn’t feel we had the luxury of waiting for those recommendations.

“The clock is ticking. Parents are making plans. The problem is, we’re making plans for a scenario we don’t know what will be, and what our resources will be.”

Hill said the district needs to unveil plans now so “families and staff have an opportunity for dialogue” about the classroom-online learning model.

“We converted to totally remote learning three days in March,” when Whitmer ordered public and private K-12 school buildings closed to slow the spread of the potentially deadly virus. For the remainder of the school year, which ends in June, schools across the state are offering a mix of online learning and printed assignments.

“What we’re doing now is crisis education,” Hill said. By unveiling plans more than three months before the start of the next school year, West Bloomfield families and teachers will have more time to prepare, Hill said.

Ronda Cooper, the parent of a student who will be a fifth-grader this fall in West Bloomfield, said she isn’t happy with the plan. 

“My first reaction when I saw the plan was, ‘Holy crap!’” Cooper said. “What’s going to happen if (her son) is at home and I have to go to work for the entire day? There needs to be a little more consistency in the schedule.”

While West Bloomfield is the first district to announce a fall plan that involves remote learning, it may not be the last. 

Education officials who spoke to Bridge over the past few weeks regarding fall plans said schools are planning for multiple scenarios, from traditional school with facemasks and extra cleaning, to hybrid plans like West Bloomfield unveiled that limit the number of students in school buildings at any one time.

Alternating school attendance days is one plan being discussed; another is having half of students attend school in mornings, and half in afternoons.

Any plan in which students aren’t in classrooms five days a week has a huge economic impact.

“One of the components of reigniting the economy is having kids in school,” said Randy Liepa, superintendent of Wayne Intermediate School District. “Imagine if you do staggered start times (for different grades or classroom sections), and high school kids have times different from elementary. Think of the babysitting and child care issues.”

And what do parents do who need to return to full-time work if their children are only in school a few days a week, Liepa asked. “It’s going to be very difficult if there is limited access to schools.”

Scott Menzel, superintendent of Washtenaw Intermediate Schools, said he questions how well social distancing can work in schools even with smaller classes. 

“Try putting five kindergarteners in a room and try to make them socially distance,” Menzel said.

West Bloomfield’s Hill acknowledged his district is likely the first to announce fall plans, but from conversations he’s had with other superintendents, he said others are likely to follow soon. 

“I’d look for most of them to have plans by early June, and blending (of in-person and online learning) is going to be fairly standard.”

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Tue, 05/19/2020 - 11:50pm

Stupid. The teachers will be there every day- unless they have kids, in which case who the F knows what they will do since someone has to stay home with the kids the other 3 days. Perhaps they'll just leave their young children home unsupervised every day while they go to work every day and get breathed on by kids. Dumb plan. I hope parents shoot it down as quick as possible.

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 8:45am

What's your plan?

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 6:12am

WAIT... We can't possibly make these decisions on a district by district basis right? I understand maybe a regional approach based on number of cases, but if every district has to make a unique plan, that is an enormous waste of time and energy it seems.

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 8:39am

This sounds like a terrible plan for students, faculty and for parents. There is a huge burden on the parents who are not educators to be forced into a position of teaching their kids because the online approach doesn’t work. Kids need face to face instructor with teachers not parents. What is worse, the spread of the virus or kids who are getting a subpar education!

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 8:44am

So you like the plan, admit it.

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 9:29am

But every district has unique needs. The state can and should certainly provide high level objectives (the "what") and guidance (various model plans on "how" an ISD, district, or school might achieve the objectives, without limiting their creativity to pursue other solutions) but the specific plans should be made as close to the ground as possible. Why? First, it allows us to learn. If the state errs on a blanket plan, to either side, everyone bears the pain. If a particular ISD/district/school errs, a smaller number are affected and we ALL learn what works and what doesn't. In addition, pivots and improvements can happen more quickly when they are made at a smaller scale.
Second, if we continue to direct the minutiae from Lansing, the debate is forced to Lansing as well and we continue to pour fire on the political divisions in our state. When decisions are made locally, citizens are much more able to make their voices heard, and leaders have to face their constituents in the community. It creates all the right inentives to remain civil and work together.
I appreciate your point regarding the resources required to develop these plans. But building and district leaders are not making these plans in isolation. As with any other educational planning process, information, ideas, and best practices are shared in a myriad of formal and informal ways. Educators do not reinvent the wheel in any other case, and they won't in this one either.
It is my hope that the state can quickly provide the high level objectives and guidance, so our local educational leaders can get to work preparing for the fall.

The voice in yo...
Wed, 05/20/2020 - 8:20am

I don’t know why all of these conservatives are even advocating schools be re opened ...
All they do is teach science and biology and things we don’t want children to know.

Kids stay home
Wed, 05/20/2020 - 8:47am

Trumpflugate will come back with a vengeance in the fall.

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 9:12am

This is really an incredibly dumb decision, and will lead to more families fleeing the district. Very poor decision-making. Parents cannot work unless kids are in school full-time, and kids cannot maximize their learning unless they're fully engaged all week. Covid-19 risk for kids is near-nil, and kids can't wait years with lives on hold until vaccine arrives.

George Hagenauer
Wed, 05/20/2020 - 9:24am

Having worked in my lifetime in both alternative schools and later in assisting in the development of child care, this doesn't sound workable. Most federal guidelines for child care funding involve a co-pay and work on scales that do not correspond well to the cost of living in most places. Another interesting problem is how to do family care with the virus. We usually care for our granddaughter after school. That has been disrupted by the virus since as seniors we technically are high risk and we can never tell when the kids are free from virus. Having worked in adult literacy another issue here are how many parents have low level literacy skills and thus problems helping their children who are working on line. A more logical plan that could involve distancing would be use of other large spaces in the community so classrooms could be spread out more increasing social distancing. That would temporarily create one room single grade school houses all over the district but would maintain regular classroom procedures. My guess is from the Bloomfield plan a lot of extracurricular activities, large school meetings and things like gym will be ending anyway. So there is no need to contain all school activities at the school. The key to all of this though is keeping the virus down by all of us practicing social distancing, wearing masks etc.. Sadly that is unlikely given the Trumpublican culture seen in the Lansing protests and other activities.

John Chastain
Wed, 05/20/2020 - 9:31am

The number of students that cannot be adequately homeschooled is significant. This "plan" is fine for the well off families with the resources and time to take over a major portion of their children's education. For the rest of us, this is disastrous. Children from rural areas and inner cities are poorly served by this plan or anything like it. Parents are working, sometimes at more than one job. Internet service is spotty and often unaffordable and families with special needs children will simply be left out in the cold, again. This "plan" out of West Bloomfield (one of the most expensive places to live in Oakland County) is another example of how the pampered and privileged in our society have defined the response to the pandemic. So the working/service class will be expected to go back to work regardless of the risks involved, their children's education will continue to suffer and this is an example of how we will do schooling during a pandemic? The conservatives act as if the pandemic is some kind of "liberal" hoax that god or his chosen one The Donald will solve and liberals think that social distancing, working from home while the nanny takes care of the kids and homeschooling is all the answer. Neither are approaching this from the perspective of the majority of Michigan's working-class regardless of circumstances. (in other words, both poor rural whites, urban minorities, and "real" small business get screwed regardless of their "politics"). I am skeptical of this 'task force" being put together by the governor will be able or willing to look at this problem from the perspective of the working class and their needs. I say this as a working-class liberal who knows that the Snyder administration would have been even more clueless than "any" Democratic successor. Anybody who knows just how badly they handled Flint can guess how much they would have screwed this up.

Finally, for those who will criticize my take on this (mostly cowering behind anonymity), all of the examples sited including the nanny one are personal and true. I am struggling to help a child with special needs, her mother is the nanny, and the wealthy "liberal" school district that she goes to is pushing homeschooling while ignoring the consequences to the working/ service class and poor minority populations and special needs students.

Bad idea.
Wed, 05/20/2020 - 9:53am

This is the dumbest idea since the shutdown began. Does the school administration expect teachers to be janitors and clean the classrooms? Or is the plan to hire and pay four times the cleaning staff?

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 11:48am

I have already made the decision to continue homeschooling my children. Their safety will always be my number one priority. My husband and I will work opposite shifts to make this work. When you choose to be a parent it is your responsibility to take care of your children. Not the school!

William C. Plumpe
Wed, 05/20/2020 - 12:50pm

How about a partnership between local school districts, Public TV and the cable provider to live stream classes into homes on cable TV?
Lots of kids don't have access to computer hardware but do have TV.

Mon, 05/25/2020 - 5:16pm

That is actually a brilliant idea!

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 12:53pm

Laughably terrible idea. I understand the need meet the crucial socialization aspect provided by in-person schooling, but this is silly. The risk reduction provided by this schedule is slim, and will only complicate the lives of students, teachers, and parents.

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 1:51pm

So now the teachers also have to disinfect the rooms?

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 2:49pm

Right? On top of possibly teaching in the building AND distance teaching as well? There really aren't enough hours in the day for all that work and planning.

Actual teacher in WB
Wed, 05/20/2020 - 3:15pm

Hi everyone - what I believe people are (purposefully?) misunderstanding about the instructional roadmaps that West Bloomfield has presented is that these are contingency plans. We are preparing for a situation where the CDC or the state says "you cannot have more than 10 or 15 people in a classroom at one time." We are trying our best to maintain face-to-fact contact with teachers and socialization with peers, while trying to anticipate that we will have to practice social distancing. Make no mistake, West Bloomfield is not making the decision to force anyone to homeschool their kids! We are trying to get plans in place in case that is the scientifically and governmentally mandate in the fall. For those who are calling to "just return to school" and "kids aren't harmed by the virus anyway" - please understand that if one child has the virus, their entire class (and school if we don't practice distancing) will need to stay home for 14 days. And while kids may not suffer the same fate as elderly and immunocompromised people, they absolutely are carriers. This is how SPREAD happens. Finally, what do you think is going to happen if several teachers at a school test positive? The whole school will have to shut down for at least 14 days. How will another sudden long-term closure affect working parents? West Bloomfield is trying to put a plan in place that, if needed, keeps some face-to-face time with teachers, some socialization with peers, smaller classes and significantly less contacts, and hopefully can maintain high-quality education through any resurgence of COVID that may occur in the fall. To do anything else except begin these conversations now and start putting together a plan now would compromise the safety of our students, staff, and community.

Fri, 05/22/2020 - 10:50am

It seems to me that the plan West Bloomfield has proposed will fit nicely into the Christian conservative agenda. With 1or 2 of your children in school on Monday & Tuesday and the other 1 or 2 in school on Thursday & Friday, Mum will just have to quit her job and stay home taking care of the kids and, of course, doting on her working husband. You know, where women belong. I own a text book from the 1940s that will prove informative should any Mum's out there need training on how to become invisible while running circles around themselves always putting everyone else first until you breaks mentally. Think of the boon to the employment prospects for men! Lets not forget the boon to the makers of zanax and valium which was handed out to mothers like candy in the 1950s and 60s. For those women who do not find this life plan attractive, I suggest getting a permanent birth control solution in play before the "Males always know better lobby" render BC illegal.

Fri, 05/22/2020 - 4:13pm

My son’s teacher has been playing Kahoot with students on Zoom and playing his guitar online. There is little to no real instruction going on. In the meantime, I’m “teaching” my student at home while working a full time job.

Sun, 05/24/2020 - 2:04pm

Same here...we are in the supposedly #1 ranked school district in West Michigan, yet little instruction is being offered and none of the school work is being reviewed by the teacher. We are trying to fill in the gaps created by the school's dereliction of duty.

Jennifer G
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 6:51pm

As stated, this is plan B if school can't be face to face. No one wants to go back to traditional education more than schools. Kudos to wb for having a plan B -something most schools don't have as they are waiting for more information that most likely will come in the form of "recommendations " . I'd love to have 3 months to prepare for my childcare and work schedule - the 3 days our governor gave me last time was ridiculous.

Thu, 05/28/2020 - 2:23pm

Schools cannot stop the spread head lice. Do you really think they can prevent the spread of a virus.