H-PT discusses return to school

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Kari Henquinet, a parent in the Houghton-Portage Township Schools, addresses the board regarding the return of live instruction during its meeting Monday night.

HOUGHTON — Houghton-Portage Township Schools will move its August board meeting up a week to Aug. 10 to decide on a plan for school reopening.

If the board approves the plan, it will be sent to the Copper Country Intermediate School District, which will review it and send it to the state by Aug. 15. 

U.P. districts are in phase 5 of the state plan, allowing them to conduct in-person classes. However, they must prepare plans for phases 4 and 3, the latter of which resembles the all-online classes from the spring. 

Members of the school district community met at the school Monday afternoon, said board member Nels Christopherson. 

“There’s going to be lots of work done by various groups — the surveys, various meetings, and so on — to gather all the data and put it into this template form so we have a coherent plan to move forward with,” he said.

Parents will receive surveys about different facets of the reopening. One sent to parents Tuesday asked parents their feelings about students returning to school, and their greatest concern.

Superintendents will meet this week and Aug. 5 to discuss health department guidelines for what to do if someone tests positive, Superintendent Doreen Kramer said.

With classes ending in March, summer cleaning and maintenance proceeded ahead of schedule, Kramer said. 

Brad Baltensperger relayed a report from the Michigan Association of School Boards. Districts are pushing for the use of last year’s count for students rather than this year’s, which could be skewed by parents keeping their children home. The counts are the main determinant of district funding. 

The elementary school will hold a video open house, including tours of the student’s classroom, said Principal Anders Hill. 

“We’re trying to think about ways to hold group events so we don’t have as much community members coming into the building,” he said. 

The middle/high school building is canceling its orientation events, such as Camp Middle School, the freshman orientation and the middle school’s orientation for new students. The middle and high school also held an open house last year for students and parents, which Middle School Principal Julie Filpus hopes will return next year. 

For now, Filpus said, teachers will make videos sharing a bit about themselves and providing back-to-school information.

“I tell students when I see them that this won’t be forever, but we have to keep navigating our way through,” she said.

Preparations include the possibility of being fully at home or for some students being out for an extended time. High School Principal Cole Klein has been working with the Regional Educational Media Center No. 1 to set up technology for synchronous instruction. These include document camera to be used on Google Meet or Zoom, webcams and microphone systems. 

The school is also exploring expanding the online programs it already offers, Klein said. 

Kari Henquinet, who has two children in the district, asked if the district was consulting with public health professionals on contact tracing, testing or protocols to mitigate virus spread. She also called for transparency and buy-in for districts, and asked for remote options to be available. 

She said the district had an ethical obligation to consider the level of appropriate risk taken by their staff. 

“They didn’t sign up to be soldiers or doctors,” she said. “…I don’t believe our teachers are of one mind on the amount of risk they want to take, but I do believe Houghton schools has an ethical obligation to minimize their situation in a substantial way.”

The board also set the first day of school for Sept. 8. 


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