Under the new return to school plan approved Jan. 25, ELPS teachers are required to return to school in-person teaching the week of March 1. All teachers will have the option to be vaccinated by the time of the return, but they will face a mostly unvaccinated student population.
Teachers will administer a hybrid of in-person and online students simultaneously.
After the plan was unveiled, the teachers’ union, (the ELEA), conducted a survey of it’s members on Jan. 19. Fifty-five percent of teachers returning did not feel “reasonably safe, despite the vaccine.
“The right thing is to wait on reopening,” said Mark Pontoni, an ELHS history teacher who spoke during public comment at the school board meeting. “[The plan would be] compelling teachers to return to school at a possible great risk themselves, and greater risk to all of our East Lansing families who will not be vaccinated prior to the reopening the school.”
Pontoni’s concern was echoed by other community members present, but some teachers voiced their support of the plan. Kevin Mayes, a technology teacher at ELHS, encouraged the community to trust the plan, and the administration who created it.
“There is no perfect plan,” Mayes said. “I think it is important to hear from teachers, that we really do… trust her [Superintendent Dori Leyko] to make the right decision in the current environment.”
Despite conflicting views from teachers, parents, students, school board members, the current return to school plan was approved later that night.
In tandem with the return-to-school plan, all teachers receiving both doses of the vaccine before returning is an ELPS priority. Teachers fall into phase 1B in the CDC vaccine rollout, along with other essential workers, and many teachers have already received their first vaccine dose.
According to the FAQ Document created by the district, ELPS teachers are encouraged to get the vaccine but not required to. Due to personal health information guidelines, teachers also don’t have to disclose their vaccination status. Along with the vaccine, teachers will also be provided PPE (Personal Protective Equipment-the extent of which is currently unknown.). Weekly antigen testing will also be provided.
According to the CDC, vaccinated people can still be carriers of COVID-19. Sixty one percent of teachers surveyed by the ELEA cited transmitting COVID-19 despite being vaccinated as a “major concern.” Spouses and children of ELHS teachers’ are unlikely to be vaccinated by the time of the return.
In previous back-to-school plans, teachers were promised the choice to return or not.
“We will continue to honor the ability and willingness of our teachers and support staff to return to in-person instruction by allowing them choice,” the Return Plan from Dec. 13 said.
The new plan requires all teachers to teach in-person, excluding only specific cases.
“We are working with individuals who have high-risk conditions on a case-by-case basis for exceptions to this,” Leyko said in an email.
Leyko’s reasoning for the switch is that teachers are now able to receive the vaccine, and thus are safer. In addition, with the complex schedule, it would be difficult to plan a timely return, while allowing some teachers to teach only online or only in-person.
Earlier plans also stressed that teachers would not teach a “hybrid” of students in-person and online.
According to an Oct. 11 plan, “ Each ELPS teacher will provide either in-person or online instruction (not both) – unless agreements are made for unique situations or courses.”
In another logistical choice, teachers now must teach their entire classes, students learning from home, and in-person, at the same time.
“Students who remain online will access content and instruction by either “zooming in” to the classroom or by continuing to access content through the Google Classroom platform – or a combination of the two,.” The plan states.
Of the 89 returning teachers surveyed by the ELEA, 49 said they did not feel reasonably safe returning, while 40 said they did. A majority of teachers expressed major concern about class sizes, students not wearing masks properly, and surfaces not being properly disinfected.
Elementary teachers were given the choice to remain at home, and there will be separate classes for in-person and online learners. They will not have to teach a hybrid class.
Ann Dorrence, a high school parent and MSU professor, expressed concern at the Jan. 25 board meeting for the quality of education provided to students when taught in a Hybrid format.
“I have done this, and have done for many years,” Dorrence said. “I only do it for five to six students at a time, and it is hard. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to do 30.”
Of the teachers in the ELEA survey, 42% called the decline in quality of instruction, a “major concern.”
Teachers will only have until March 1 to prepare curriculum for this shift.
“One of my students asked me…’how will you teach both?” said Audrey Underhill, a teacher at McDonald Middle School, at the Board Meeting. “I said, ‘I’m going to take my teacher magic and turn it up to 10 and we are going to hope for the best’ because that was the best answer I could give.”
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