Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Ironwood board approves back-to-school plan


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Ironwood — With the school year quickly approaching, the Ironwood Area Schools’ board of education approved the district’s back-to-school plan Monday.

Ironwood’s Return to School plan — which has to be submitted to the state by Aug. 15 — lays out the broad strokes of the district’s plans for teaching amidst the coronavirus pandemic this fall, with the biggest change from the district’s previous updates being that the older students will have a blended schedule of both in-person and remote learning if they choose that option.

Ironwood Superintendent Travis Powell said — assuming in-person instruction is allowed — the district plans to provide three basic pathways for students. The pathways will largely consist of in-person learning, remote learning using district staff with the student largely remaining a member of their respective class, and virtual learning through the district’s partnership with the Upper Peninsula Virtual Academy.

In-person learning is allowed in Phases 4 and 5 of the state’s plan to combat the coronavirus pandemic, according to Powell, with teaching limited to remote instruction in the more severe phases of the plan. Ironwood is currently in Phase 5.

Regardless of the phase, Powell said the district has had the time needed to develop a plan and will be better prepared to offer a quality educational experience to students than this spring when classes suddenly switched to remote learning after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered all school facilities closed in mid-March as Michigan’s COVID-19 numbers began to rise.

“March 13 caught us off guard, we are not going to fall for that again. We are going to be prepared no matter what happens,” Powell said. “We spent a lot of time in the summer doing that, teachers have spent many, many hours to prepare for this so when school does start, and hopefully it’s in person … we’ll be ready for that. If things change and it needs to be remote, we’ll be ready for that too.”

For those who choose to send their kids to school, which a majority of parents the district has talked to are interested in doing, how that will look will depend on their grade level.

Powell said students in pre-K through sixth grade will be required to wear masks in the common areas but can be unmasked in the classrooms as they are staying in the same cohort and not mingling with those who aren’t in their individual classes.

For the older students in grades seven through 12, Powell previously said they will need to wear masks all day as the different class schedules mean there is more movement between classes.

On Monday, Powell also said the older students will be splitting time between remote and in-person learning in an effort to reduce the number of students in the building each day. Under the plan approved Monday, the students would be divided into two basic groups and would each attend school for two days of the week and learn remotely for the other three.

“All children will have remote instruction on Wednesday and the days they’re not in school. So if you’re Group A, come to school on Monday and Tuesday and you’ll have remote instruction Wednesday, Thursday, Friday; and if you’re in Group B, you’ll have remote instruction Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and you’ll come to school Thursday and Friday,” Powell said. “Every child will receive five days worth of instruction, every child will be expected to interact with and will be interacting (with the curriculum in some form) every day of the week.”

The older students can still choose the entirely remote option or to attend the U.P. Virtual Academy if they don’t want the blended, in-person option.

As for busing, Powell said students won’t be required to socially distance on the buses — a measure that would require the district to make roughly six times the number of trips than it needs when buses can be filled to capacity — but they will have to use hand sanitizer prior to getting on the bus and wear masks during the ride.

Students who live within certain distances of the school will also be expected to walk or be given rides to school, rather than ride the bus, to limit the number of kids using the district’s buses.

The district’s plan also calls for sports to be allowed, but attendance at events will likely be limited to varying degrees, depending whether they are held indoors or outside.

Powell also said the district will be working closely with the Western U.P. Health Department in responding and tracking any positive COVID cases connected to the school — something he said he views as a matter of when, rather than if those cases arise.

Powell thanked the over 20 teachers and staff members, as well as several board members, who helped develop the district’s plan.

He said the district would be releasing more information to parents on the details of the plan in the coming days, and the district has scheduled an informational meeting via Facebook Live Thursday at 5 p.m.

In other news:

—The board gave Powell the authority to engage in a settlement in the ongoing litigation related to the insurance money the district is owed from former Ironwood Township Treasurer Jyl Olson DeRosso’s embezzlement.

—The board also approved a personnel report, which included the hiring of Kevin Lane as a fifth-grade teacher to replace Patti Packmayer, who is retiring.

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