West Bloomfield Schools start in-person classes amid coronavirus
Despite months of planning, West Bloomfield Schools expected a few bumps in the road Thursday when students returned to classrooms for the first time in more than five months.
“We’ve got just the normal kind of excitement and anxiety but you can put that on steroids, if you will, with the conditions we’re facing this year,” Superintendent Gerald Hill said. “We think we’ve done the planning. We expect there to be things that will happen that we didn’t expect and we’ll have to do a lot of monitoring and adjusting.”
It didn’t take long for the unexpected to arrive.
Shortly after the first bell at Sheiko Elementary School, someone smelled smoke in a classroom and pulled the fire alarm. Teachers and their students, all wearing masks, filed out onto the playground while two fire engines, two EMS units and a police squad car rolled into the parking lot.
Students sat in groups on the grass outside while firefighters investigated.
“It was a vent motor on the air conditioning unit in that classroom,” said Hill, who arrived at the school just behind the fire trucks. “It got stuck and overheated.”
There was no major damage and fire crews quickly gave the all-clear signal. Kids returned to their classrooms after about 20 minutes outside.
“Everything was going so well,” said Principal Sonja James. “Leave it to me to spice things up.”
West Bloomfield public schools were among the first in the state to shift to online learning at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Michigan. On Thursday, the district became the first public school district in metro Detroit to welcome students back into classrooms.
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An additional 25 or so districts in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties are set to resume face-to-face instruction next week, with still others waiting until after Labor Day. Several private schools in the region returned to classrooms last week as did Howell Public Schools in Livingston County.
Several dozen districts in the region have chosen to resume classes in an online-only format as they monitor the presence of COVID-19 cases in their communities.
Parents waiting to drop their kids off at Sheiko said they were glad to see their kids return.
“I’m not worried at all about his safety,” said Tila Johnson, whose 9-year-old son, Samir, is a fourth-grader at Sheiko. “I believe they have the right precautions in place.”
Russ Shumshinov, who has two sons in the district,
“I think some of it might be overkill but they’re doing a great job,” he said. “I’m excited the kids are returning to school.”
Shumshinov said teachers and staffers were upbeat and positive when he visited Wednesday for a meet-and-greet session at the school. His boys, Samuel and Jeffrey, were masked up in his back seat as they waited for school to start.
Jeffrey, a second-grader at nearby Doherty Elementary School, said wearing a mask didn’t bother him.
“You put it behind your ears and you leave it there,” he said. “You kind of get used to it.”
Hill said the district is following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Return to School Roadmap, which spells out safety protocols based on phases.
West Bloomfield is offering face-to-face instruction four days a week to students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The students are split into two groups. One attends in the morning and the other in the afternoon.
Every Wednesday, all students will study online while custodians conduct a deep clean of the buildings.
The district’s high school, which has about 1,800 students, remains online only for now because distancing that many students would be a challenge.
Students in all grades had the option of choosing to stay online entirely. Hill said about 75% of families decided to send their children to classrooms, though that number remained in flux even this week.
Joe and Ranae Seestadt have five children in the district and considered their options carefully.
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