By Megan Kelley
With the start of another school year on the horizon, Lake Orion Community Schools Board of Education met for their final meeting before the start of school on Sept. 8.
During their last meeting on Aug. 26, the board unanimously voted to begin the school year in a fully remote format.
While this was an unpopular decision, it was one that the board felt necessary to make. The public outcry has been nothing short of palpable on social media and in letters to the board, with many working parents concerned about what they will do with their children while they are at work.
Superintendent Ben Kirby gave updates on the district’s current start plan, the Dragon’s Den program and details on what is fueling district recommendations/decisions in moving forward.
“I can’t emphasize that we really would like to get our kids back to school when the time is right,” Kirby said. “We certainly want to communicate what the things are that we’re looking at. And it’s also important to understand that the district is a microcosm of our community, so when we’re looking at data points it’s really about our community data.”
A good amount of the information the district is using is data provided by the Oakland County Health Division, Kirby explained. Recently, the OCHD has added COVID-19 data as it relates to district boundaries.
“As people look at that ZIP code data and as it’s broken up by school districts, what you’ll notice is that Lake Orion Community Schools is at 17.2 out of 10,000 cases. And as you get on there, you’ll notice that 17.2 is the highest in our northern region. So, you can look at all the different school districts but unfortunately, we’re at 17.2 and that is a very concerning number when we talk about a continuity of our educational program,” Kirby said.
“What that tells us is that the likelihood of there being more of a spread would be higher because we have more positive cases. One of the things that we know about that data…is that our case issue right now is in our teenagers. And really what’s going to end up happening is, for us, we’ll be able to watch those results…and that will really tell us down the road when it is that we can get back to in-person instruction,” he said.
Kirby also announced that he is working to put together a Medical Personnel Advisory Committee, which would likely consist of medical experts, social/emotional experts, epidemiologists and others from the community to gather further input.
Looking to the future, Kirby pointed out that there is no one specific number that would get students back to in-person learning. While the number of cases in the LOCS district boundaries does not have to reach zero in order for students to go back to school in-person, Kirby would like to see a trend that is showing fewer cases before in-person learning can occur.
The district still hopes to be able to return to in-person learning come Nov. 9.
Kirby also acknowledging that the decision to go fully remote was one that may be difficult for some families but stated that the district was doing what they could to help ease those problems and support families in the process.
“This whole decision is about students, it’s about employees, it’s about parents and ultimately our community. And we want to make sure that we are being responsible to all of those groups,” Kirby said.
After receiving feedback from the community, the district created Dragon’s Den.
The Dragon’s Den program will be offered to students in Developmental Kindergarten through fifth grade and will provide a location for daily remote learning. Pupils will be split into groups of 10 students maximum and follow the guidelines set forth by the county health department and state.
The Dragon’s Den schedule will run from 8 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. on school days at Blanche Sims Elementary, the CERC building, Paint Creek Elementary, Scripps Middle School, Stadium Drive Elementary, Waldon Middle School and Webber Elementary.
While staff will be on hand, there will be no teachers available during this time and the staff role will likely focus on engaging children in their remote learning. The program is contingent on the district having enough staff to run the program.
“Along with this decision to start in remote, what that meant is that we have food service employees, we have staff associates, we have bus drivers that don’t have any work. And so, with that, there’s been a number of our staff that we haven’t been able to continue to employ because there isn’t going to be work for them. So, we’re hoping through those groups, that we can have enough staffing for this program,” Kirby said.
Dragon’s Den will cost $40/day or $35/day if parents are enrolling two or more students. Before and aftercare is also offered for an additional cost.
It is important to note that, with Dragon’s Den, parents will not be paying for in-person teaching – they are paying for childcare.
Additionally, Kirby said special education and pre-school classes all meet the criteria for in-person learning and are expected to operate as such while following proper guidelines.