Tawas Area Schools (TAS) Board of Education voted Thursday to approve the district’s COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan, as proscribed by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-142.

TAWAS CITY – At a remote special meeting on August 6 which lasted more than three hours and forty minutes, the d 

Following the State’s “Return to Learn Roadmap,” each school district in Michigan is required to submit a plan to their board for approval by August 15 or seven days before the first day of school, whichever comes first. The plan is then submitted to their Intermediate School District, locally, the Iosco Regional Educational Service Agency, for transmission to State authorities by August 17.

The meeting, which was announced on the district’s Facebook page on Aug. 5, generated considerable interest throughout the community. As many as 172 people – parents, teachers, students, and concerned citizens – remotely attended the session to learn how the district intends to return from the COVID-19 shutdown.

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, 110 confirmed cases of coronavirus have been documented in Iosco County resulting in 11 deaths as of Aug. 9.

Due to the number of participants in attendance at the meeting which apparently slowed the District’s Google Meets platform, TAS Superintendent John Klinger lamented that he was unable to show a PowerPoint presentation he had prepared outlining the highlights of the plan during the session. Klinger verbally presented the plan, and then invited questions from Board members and attendees. Cori Upper of the Iosco County Health Dept. was also in attendance to answer questions regarding guidelines from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), as well as information on hygiene, masks, face shields, and social distancing.

Klinger said that the TAS plan calls for a virtual model during Phases 1-3, when face-to-face instruction is not possible. All inter-school activities would be discontinued as the curriculum goes into a full virtual model, using the Google Suite platform. Chromebooks will be distributed to students, and instructional materials will be distributed to families without internet access. Teachers and staff will be expected to make daily contact with students and have two-way communication.

Busing and transportation will be suspended in Phases 1-3, as well as athletics, after-school activities and inter-school activities.

Food service will be provided weekly with curbside pickup.

Only essential employees will be permitted on campus, and those employees will be screened and tested for the coronavirus. Buildings will undergo deep cleaning and sanitizing to prepare for reopening.

Families will monitor their child’s health, and are instructed to work with the local health department if contact tracing is necessary.

Phase 4 opens the district to face-to-face learning. However, families may still choose a virtual model.

The plan calls for face coverings for students in Phase 4. Proper hygiene practices will be incorporated into daily schedules and curriculum. Normal bus routes will be resumed, with mandatory face masks and hand sanitizer used when entering the bus. Seats will be assigned in family groups, and windows will be open when applicable to increase air flow.

Athletics will resume under guidelines from the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

Food service will resume with students spread six feet apart in cafeterias and gymnasiums. Cleaning and hygiene will remain a high priority.

Phase 5 will follow the Phase 4 plans for curriculum, technology, grading and attendance, and busing. Field trips, assemblies, and other gatherings will be reassessed. Traditional cafeteria seating arrangements will resume. Food service staff will still be required to wear facial coverings, and cleaning and hygiene practices will continue to be emphasized.

During the meeting, attendees had the opportunity to submit questions regarding the plan to the administration via the chat feature on the Google Meets platform. Tawas Area Middle School Assistant Principal Chris Bolen was called upon to gather the questions and present them for the district’s response. 

One of the questions touched on the issue of flexibility, specifically, if a family chooses the virtual option, can they opt for in-person learning at a later date, and vice versa? Klinger replied in the affirmative. He said that since TAS teachers were conducting both virtual and in-person learning, such flexibility was allowed. Klinger intimated that, if a third-party vendor had been contracted for the virtual option, such flexibility might not have been available.

Klinger noted that flexibility was of great importance to the plan as a whole. The plan, Klinger said, allows the district to transition from virtual learning to in-person learning, and back again, as conditions change regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-142 requires school districts to include in their plans measures to assure:

• Equal access to in-person instruction for students with disabilities consistent with their individualized education programs (IEPs).

• Equal access to any alternative modes of instruction when schools are closed to in-person instruction to students with disabilities from birth to age 26.

• Guidance from the U. S. Dept. of Education, “including its Office of Civil Rights and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, and the Michigan Department of Education concerning the delivery of alternative modes of instruction to students with disabilities in light of the impact of COVID-19.”

• Making “individualized determinations” as to compensatory services for students with disabilities in light of school closures during the 2019-2020 school year.

• Closure of its buildings during Phase 1, 2, or 3 of the Michigan Safe Start Plan to all but essential personnel, food service workers preparing food for distribution to students or their families, and licensed child-care providers. Providers must follow all emergency protocols identified by the state.

• Suspension of athletics, after-school activities, inter-school activities, and busing during Phase 1, 2, or 3.

• Continuing to pay school employees subject to requirements of a collective bargaining arrangement while deploying staff to work in the context of the plan.

• Continuing distribution of food to eligible students during Phase 1,2, and 3.

• Prohibition of indoor assemblies that bring together students from more than one classroom during Phase 4.

• Cooperation with the local public health department if a confirmed case of COVID-19 is identified, including the collection of contact information for any close contacts of the affected individual.