By Megan Kelley
It has been two weeks since the start of the school year in Lake Orion Community Schools on Sept. 8, and this school year has posed challenges unlike years before with COVID-19 causing the school board to make the decision to begin the school year fully remote.
In the weeks since the decision, the district has been inundated with emails and comments on social media from disappointed parents, and last week’s meeting on Sept. 15 was no different.
The school board does not allow live participation in remote meetings, but boardmembers read into the record 29 public participation emails from parents and grandparents, many of which raised concerns for their elementary-age student’s education, as well as their student’s emotional wellbeing.
“Please send at least elementary back, this is not working for anyone. These poor teachers are doing their best but online does not work for small children. I am pretty confident you are wasting everyone’s time by doing virtual for this age group. My son is six, he cannot tell time yet and you expect him to complete assignments on an app, log in and out of zoom multiple times a day and know what he’s supposed to be doing at certain times when again, he can’t tell time,” wrote Katie Thomas.
In addition to these concerns, parents also wrote in regarding issues with technology.
“I have two children in Lake Orion Schools; a kindergartener who is currently working from a very old tablet because we thought that she was going to be given a device but found out the day of, you don’t have any left,” said Amber Haggadone. “She can barely hear and gets kicked off constantly. Seesaw (program) isn’t even an option for her unless she waits until after school, which was the only option we were given. I also have a third grader with an IEP. Neither of my girls can sit on their devices without my constant help. This has left me to make a choice because my choice was taken away. I now have to choose which one of my children needs an education the most…by taking away in-person and virtual and only offering remote learning, you have left me with no other option. I will have to pull one of my kids.”
While board policy does not allow the board to respond directly to public participation, some of the parent concerns were addressed later in the meeting.
Superintendent Ben Kirby, in past meetings, has informed the board that he would continue to provide updates on the district’s return to school plan.
“We really appreciate the comments, you know not only those that have provided comments here this evening at the meeting, but the emails and things of that nature that we’ve received,” Kirby said. “(It’s) kind of the same thing; we get ‘this is really going well’ and we get some of the barriers that some of the families are facing that we’re helping them overcome as well. So, we’ll continue to do that. We certainly want to make this education opportunity a great experience for all.”
Kirby explained the district’s relationship with the Oakland County Health Division has improved greatly, especially in receiving information regarding Coronavirus.
“I want to emphasize, as we go through and make the decision about when we can return or start to offer in-person instruction, some of the steps we’re taking, or that I’m taking, in our district, to lead our district,” Kirby said. “I meet with all of the Oakland County Superintendents on a weekly basis and also I have another meeting during the week, that we’re doing on a weekly basis with a northern group of Superintendents.”
Kirby explained that during his meetings with superintendents, he meets with the county epidemiologist who provides information on trends in both the county and district.
“That’s what’s most important to me, is to understand what the trends are in our district so that we can make decisions that are relevant to our students and our staff,” Kirby said. “We’re all working together to try and get an in-person learning opportunity as soon as possible. And we’ll continue to trend in that direction as long as the positive environment continues.”
Kirby uses these meetings, as well as the COVID-19 dashboard online at www.oakgov.com/covid/dashboard.html, but was sure to add that he’s not basing return to school decisions on one single metric.
“I often tend to get challenged: ‘What is that one metric that you’re looking at to make that decision?’ and, as I have discussed, there is no one metric, there’s a number of them,” Kirby said. “When I turn that question around and ask people what one metric they expect me to look at, there really isn’t a good answer and I share that because there really isn’t one good metric to look at.”
Based on current trends, Kirby is hopeful and plans on taking a deeper look at how to get some students, likely elementary students, back into school at the board’s next meeting on Sept. 23.
Also in the meeting:
• Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Rick Arnett provided details on late registration of Kindergarten students. According to Arnett, typically, the district sees an influx of 20-30 late registrants but this year, the district had an influx of more than150 late registrants.
In a previous meeting, the district had told the board that they were down in kindergarten registrants. This influx, however, does not put the district at their pre-COVID anticipated number of kindergarten registrants.
• The board also approved a bid award for electronic signage at the Early Childhood Center, Orion Oaks, Carpenter, Webber/Moose Tree, Paint Creek, Stadium Drive, Oakview, Scripps, Waldon, Pine Tree, and Blanche Sims.
The district received seven bids, with Curb Appeal Concepts, Inc. being awarded the bid for $239,795, and allocating an additional contingency amount of $23,980. (Correction: due to technical difficulties, the board did not vote to approve this bid award at their Sept. 15 meeting. The bid award was approved at their Sept. 23 meeting.)