Alpena School Board Votes to Modify On-Site Education

From Harrison Daily Times

ALPENA — The Alpena School Board met Tuesday night and voted to request a modification in the district’s on-site educational plan as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Superintendent David Westenhover told the board that teachers are under a heavier workload trying to balance off-site and on-site lesson plans. Additional cleaning and sanitation also put a strain on all staff.

He explained that the Personnel Policy Committee recently met and reviewed a plan that could help ease all that burden and one that staff would like the board to consider.

The recommendation was that a bi-weekly digital day would be instituted beginning Nov. 4. All student assignments would be ready prior to that day. Students would not be required to attend on-site classes that day. But if circumstances at home require attendance at school, arrangements would be made.

Buses would run normal routes in the morning and afternoon. Meals would be made available for students both off-site and on-site.

Those days would be scheduled for Wednesdays with the exception of Dec. 22, a Tuesday, because Wednesday, Dec. 23, is the first day of Christmas break.

Westenhover said teachers, staff and students have been tasked with undertaking a novel approach to education with unrivaled expectations, which increases extended mental and physical loads.

“It’s difficult to keep up with increased demands and still do the best job of educating kids,” Westenhover said. “Time is needed for catching up with grading papers and preparing lessons.”

The digital days would allow for that to happen, as well as to allow for additional deep cleaning of facilities to make them safer and healthier. Two or three people on the committee suggested the days be in the middle of the week as the most efficient time. It would also avoid the appearance of staff just wanting a three-day weekend.

Board member Trisha Cantwell asked if the plan would require teachers to work after hours for preparation.

Westenhover said no new material would be introduced for students on those days. Lessons could be uploaded to Google Classroom for students to complete, but there would be no video distance meetings with teachers and students.

Board president Robb Hulsey asked if there had been any negative feedback about the plan.

Westenhover said there was none from staff, although there had been some comments made by people on Facebook. He said they weren’t “bad” comments, but were from people who don’t understand the additional workload put on staff due to the pandemic. They wondered why to even attempt the plan if there might be some students on campus at need.

Hulsey asked how the district would handle those students. Would they all be put in a single classroom? Who would supervise them?

Westenhover said the plan would utilize support staff and paraprofessionals as much as possible. The students would already have lessons and devices on which to do their work. It would free the teachers’ time on those days.

“Teachers need some time,” board member Lynette Cantwell said. They are required to create plans for more work than is required in a normal school year.

Westenhover said the board would have to approve the committee’s request for the modification. The entire plan would then be submitted to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for approval. He said the timeline for approval of a modification has been “pretty quick” from what he has heard from other districts that submitted plans.

State Education Secretary Johnny Key said during a press briefing Tuesday that 11 school districts made modifications to their on-site learning plan the previous week, which he said was the least number since school started.

As of Tuesday, 17 modifications were active, while 169 modification plans were inactive, Key said.

Westenhover said he felt as though DESE would have time to take action on the modification request in order to implement it next week.

The board unanimously approved the plan.

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