By Crystal Hayduk
The Chelsea School District Board of Education heard an in-depth update about what school will look like this fall at their virtual meeting on Aug. 10.
The 2020-21 preparedness and response and learning plan, based on the Michigan Safe Start Plan and the Governor’s Roadmap, was presented by the district’s administrative team, led by Superintendent Julie Helber.
The PowerPoint presentation covered 11 areas related to the return to school, including spacing, movement, and access; health screening for students and staff; food service; athletics; cleaning; transportation; and other crucial topics.
The entire presentation, the plan as approved by the board, and the COVID-19 Return to School Toolkit are all available through links on the district’s website at https://www.chelsea.k12.mi.us/return-to-school.
Students will begin classes remotely. (Related story here.)
More information will be provided at virtual building meetings, with opportunities for questions and answers at additional meetings. Links for the meetings are being emailed to families by the building principals.
Board member Dana Durst asked how families can ask questions. Helber said she recommends families make every attempt to attend the Q&A sessions for each building, but if anything comes up after that, they may email any administrator.
Board member Laura Bush thanked administration for the tremendous amount of work they have done since the pandemic began in mid-March. She said there’s no single right plan because everybody has a unique situation. In her 27 years as a nurse, she’s never witnessed anything to challenge both health care and education in this way.
Scott Wooster, director of technology, addressed the notable internet issues families face during remote learning.
“After getting the survey results from families, there seems to be a lot of families that struggle with no internet access or not very good internet access in the Chelsea area,” he said.
Although the district is working to get additional hot spots for distribution to homes, it will not solve the problem in rural areas that don’t have adequate cell coverage. Wooster said the district may need to consider creating a special face-to-face cohort of students who cannot access internet. “We are working diligently to try to get adequate internet for families, but we have to work within the constraints that we have,” he said. “We are looking at other solutions to make sure we can meet these students’ educational needs.”
The board approved the hiring of a new vocal music director, Aaron Pollard, to replace Steve Hinz. Pollard received his bachelor’s degree from Eastern Michigan University. Helber said it is hard to replace someone so great, and although Pollard is young, he has varied experiences and was fantastic throughout the interview process. His references said he performs well in difficult situations and his students trust him.
The board also approved the hiring of Jennifer McKay as a teacher consultant at North Creek Elementary School. McKay, who earned her master’s degree from Northern Illinois University, has nine years of teaching experience, is certified as a behavior analyst, and is endorsed for ELL (English Language Learners). “She has a vast amount of experience and we’re excited to have her talents with us,” said Helber.
During the second opportunity for public input, two individuals addressed the board.
Marka Eberle, mother of three, said she is most concerned with the district’s current plan that sports and marching band continue to meet even though the Big Ten and MAC [football] have determined participation to be unsafe.
“Any gathering of teenagers we have seen participating this summer have had to be excessively reminded to be safe,” she said. “I’m very concerned that in our enthusiasm to give our kids the full-blown Chelsea experience, we’re putting them at risk through continuing to offer sports, particularly contact sports, and extracurricular activities.”
Given that high school students can’t return to the classroom until the second trimester, she said she is concerned that offering non-essential activities are putting the community at risk.
In contrast, Jason Skoczylas, father of two, said sports and extracurricular activities are important to children and the school district.
“All summer, there have been sports programs throughout Chelsea and we were the so-called ‘guinea pigs’ with zero outbreaks,” he said. “The kids are participating very well with wearing their masks and with cleaning and their parents are paying attention to the safety protocols. Sports and extracurricular activities are extremely important to the students…. I ask the school board to continue to support these extracurricular activities and the sports because as of right now that’s all they have to be part of the community. They are essential to our children.”
In other board news:
Helber would like to increase the school nurse’s half-time position to full-time, for board approval at the next meeting. “At this time, it is imperative that we have at least one full-time school nurse and Marijane Nelson has certainly proven to be the one for us [with all of the COVID planning],” said Helber.
Four board members will be members of the district’s equity and social justice coalition.
Helber said the paving work at the Washington Street Education Center “looks fantastic.” Bond work continues on the interior renovation of the 500 building.
The next virtual board meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 24.