TAWAS CITY – At the April 20 special electronic meeting of the Tawas Area Schools (TAS) Board of Education, Superintendent John Klinger reported that the district successfully complied with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order No. 2020-35. 

By submitting its Continuity of Learning and COVID-19 Response Plan to Iosco Regional Educational Service Agency Superintendent Dana McGrew, who approved the plan on April 13, the district accomplished the governor’s mandated task in advance of the April 16 deadline.

In addition to reaffirming closure of all in-person K-12 instruction for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, Whitmer’s order instructed school districts to adopt “a Department-approved alternative education program or another innovative program approved by the Department” in order to satisfy “the number of days and hours of instruction required under a waiver granted by the Department.” Whitmer also ordered the Department of Education to “develop and distribute a model template” to help school districts design their own plans.

Highlights of the TAS plan include:

• “…a hybrid form of alternative modes of instruction to help promote social distancing while providing instruction for our students;”

• Working “collaboratively with Alpena Community College and any other college/university to support our Early Middle College and Dual Enrollment Students;”

• “...working together with Edmentum and Michigan Virtual for students who are taking courses on-line for classes our District doesn’t offer or for credit recovery;”

• Continuing their Meet Up to Eat Up food program;”

• Communicating with students on a daily/weekly basis using resources such as Google Classroom, Zoom/Google Meets, email, phone calls, Facebook, and office hours to make sure “students will have access to their teachers;”

• Distribution of hard copy instructional packets for those students without access to technology.

In response to a question from Trustee Connie O’Connor as to whether the Tawas program had been modelled after other school districts, Klinger replied that brainstorming had taken place across school districts in Iosco County at intermediate school district meetings.

Trustee Anne Freel inquired as to the percentage of TAS students who lack internet access. High School/Middle School Principal Toby Suttle estimated that 20 percent of his students do not have access, while Clara Bolen Elementary School Principal Sarah Danek said that approximately 15 percent of her students lacked access. Danek also noted that 135 Chromebooks were being distributed to her students to accommodate their educational needs.

Klinger affirmed that teachers will schedule office hours for contact with their students without internet service, and will both receive and make calls to maintain contact with their students.

Freel asked about the issue of grading students both before and after the shutdown. Klinger stated that the district faces a number of issues related to grading, including the delivery of course work compared to their peers, consistency of grading digital versus paper media, and verification of the integrity of the students’ work. 

He said that the school doesn’t want to penalize students, but wishes to determine that educational standards are achieved. Klinger stressed that “bubble students” need a 75 percent participation rate in the program. TAS School Board President Jim Bacarella commented on the importance of having staff members who are “proactive with struggling students.”

In his closing remarks, Bacarella paid a compliment to the voters in the district. “It is fortunate that the millage passed six years ago,” he said, noting that the measure has allowed a one-to-one ratio of students with technology.

In other matters before the board:

• By a 7-0 vote, the board increased the Student Term Employee Insurance contribution from $350 per month to $365. The move was necessary, according to Klinger, to assure that the plan for non-teaching hourly employees would be in compliance with the Affordable Care Act.

• Spring coaches whose seasons were cut short by the Governor’s Executive Order to close the schools will be paid on a prorated basis. The board unanimously approved a recommendation from the personnel committee that they will be paid 25 percent of their total compensation;

• Extra-curricular sponsors/advisors (including Science Olympics, Knowledge Bowl, and Math Competition coaches), since their competitions were completed or nearly completed, will be paid 100 percent of their compensation.

• With respect to teacher evaluation pay, since administrators will not be able to complete their evaluations due to the school closure order, the personnel committee recommended that all teachers receive evaluation pay. The board voted 7-0 to approve payment of $50 per teacher.