Katie Judy and her family are dealing with a new normal for this school year. (Photo provided by Katie Judy) Farmington Hills resident Katie Judy, second from right, and her family
Katie Judy and her family are dealing with a new normal for this school year. (Photo provided by Katie Judy)

The 2020-21 school year is full of hope and a bit of caution as school officials and parents, like Farmington mother Katie Judy, are navigating a new normal.

MICHIGAN — Class is in session.

It has been for weeks for many school districts around the state, leading to nearly a dozen outbreaks already. 

On Tuesday, Sept. 8, school bells rang symbolically for the remainder of children in metro Detroit whose first day started this week. 

This academic year looks a bit different as students were greeted by masked teachers and school officials. Students, too, donned face masks as their own latest school supply. 

Lessons were already underway though weeks earlier as schools reopened and — to the dismay of some students’ health — knowledge wasn’t the only thing being shared.

K-12 Outbreaks in Michigan 

Among the first schools to resume in-person learning in July was Detroit Public Schools Community District. Immediately, three students tested positive for COVID-19 and quarantined until they could continue classes online, according to clickondetroit.com. 

SEE MORE: Can Detroit’s Public Schools Operate Safely During the Pandemic? No One Seems to Agree. 

At Howell High School, Aug. 19 was the students’ first day back to school and it was filled with a bit of controversy. A picture circulating the internet shows students jam-packed in a hallway (not social distancing) — though most donned masks. 

HPS Public Relations Director Tom Gould told www.whmi.com that students and staff are adjusting to the new school year and safety measures and “bumps along the way” were to be expected.

Just this week, nearly two dozen COVID-19 outbreaks occurred at 11 K-12 schools and 11 on college campuses, according to an MLive report.

The Next Step

What’s a mother to do? Farmington Hills mother Katie Judy said that she’s remaining hopeful that early winter things will go back to a (new) normal and her school-age children can attend school in person.

The mother of three children, 18 months, 5, and 7 years old, has her two oldest enrolled in schools in the greater Farmington area.

“It has been a difficult decision that I have spent weeks trying to make the most informed decision possible for all of us,” she said. “As a creature of habit and routine myself, I was initially leaning towards the online virtual option for the entirety of the school year but as the school year approached, it was clear that the choices for us would continue to change.”

Wayne-Westland Community Schools are tackling changes as they come, too, Jenny Johnson, communications director for Wayne-Westland Community Schools, said in an email to The ‘Gander. The school district voted last month to begin the year with distance learning until at least Oct. 23. She said they kept district families’ physical and emotional well-being in mind with their decision. 

This means all students are using the distance learning model with live online instruction, interactions with classmates and be offered interventions and academic support. 

“In addition, all students have learning materials, including textbooks, for assignments that do not require them being on the computer,” Johnson said. Also, the school district has WiFi hotspots, which are mounted on school buses. “We will have those buses deployed to areas in our district where we know students do not have access to the internet.” 

Schools across Michigan counties opened under the direction of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s MI Safe Start Plan.

Under Whitmer’s MI Safe Schools: Michigan’s 2020- 21 Return to School Roadmap she unveiled in June, the 63-page plan lays out the steps for returning to school based on the status of the pandemic in the state geographically. With new cases cropping up in schools districts like Kalamazoo, experts are seeing how in-person learning will go.

Whitmer’s plan highlights include evolving options like full-time in-person learning, remote learning, or hybrid learning, social distance recommendations among others. Find out which district is doing what here.


Learning Through The Uncertainty

Judy spent a while trying to determine what each of her children needed as they began their kindergarten and second grade schooling. She and her husband chose to be in a district that offered some “incredible” STEAM opportunities for their kids and some specialized, unique instruction opportunities — a pandemic couldn’t squash their goals, so they’re thriving through these murky waters of returning to school.  

“Despite my abilities to teach them at home, they really are missing out from the social interactions with their classmates.  We are hopeful that they will be able to address our social concerns virtually in the meantime until the district determines that it is safe to return to in person instruction.”

READ ALSO: Trump, Michigan Republicans Want Young Kids Back in Schools — No Matter What

Currently, Judy does full-time virtual learning “with the hope of returning to hybrid beginning in November.”

Judy said that her children’s school district has a large team of people who are in charge of making tough decisions, and she feels confident that “the safest decision” will be made for everyone in the district.  

“I am anxiously awaiting more news as the end of October approaches and we have to make the next decision for what comes next for the school year,” she said. 

Uncertain Times Calls For Certain Measures

School began Aug. 31 and so did their at-home learning routine.

“We have spent a lot of time dedicating our dining room to our at-home school learning area and organized it so that the kids can easily find a variety of materials when they need to and have a plan of where things go, similar to what they have at school,” she said.” I’m eager for the work expectations to begin to increase somewhat to help challenge them a little more to help them be more prepared for when they return to in-person learning.”  

Judy added that whether a parent has decided to have their child learn virtually or in person, they should know that they’ve made the right choice.

“This is all such a personal decision and we have to respect that everyone has such different circumstances in their families,” she said. “We believe that our district has our families best interests at heart. In the meantime, I will do everything that I can to help make sure that my children get the most of their education and support them any way that I can during these uncertain times.”

SEE MORE: Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Back to School Plan