TCAPS plans to return to in-person learning this fall, but first two weeks start online

Aug 10, 2020

Traverse City Area Public Schools will offer in-person instruction for students this fall, but the first two weeks of school will happen online.

The plan, which was approved by the district school board by a vote of 6-to-1 at a virtual meeting Monday night, calls for online instruction to start the fall semester. Then on September 21 students and teachers would resume in-person instruction with added health and safety measures.

TCAPS Superintendent John VanWagoner recommended the plan, and says the two weeks of online instruction will give the district much-needed time.

“That would allow us to have two weeks to get a lot of training in with our staff,” VanWagoner said. “To make sure that all of the safety protocols that we have to do, that we get it right.”

VanWagoner and Board President Sue Kelly also said those two weeks will let the district try out their online learning platform, test cleaning protocols and see how other districts handle the fall.

Northern Michigan is currently in Phase 5 of the Governor’s MI Safe Start Plan, meaning the area is “containing” the coronavirus according to the state. The TCAPS plan rests on the region staying in Phase 5.

But not all board members are fans of the in-person plan. Board Member Jeff Leonhardt voted ‘no’ and said he couldn’t support sending students back to school so soon.

“It’s not long enough… I could support a longer delay,” he said. “I can’t help but point out the irony of us being required to meet virtually and yet we’re considering opening school face-to-face.”

Leonhardt said he wants to revisit the plan within the first two weeks of online instruction to see if switching to in-person instruction is still safe, which VanWagoner agreed to.

In response to those concerns, VanWagoner said some details of the back-to-school plan still need to be finalized and may be changed before or during the school year. 

“If … things are not going well, I absolutely trust that [the superintendent and executive team] will help us make the decision to make that change,” Board Member Pam Forton said.

The plan goes to the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District, then to the state for final approval later this month.

Allyson Culver represents TCAPS teachers with the Traverse City Education Association. Prior to the approval of the plan, she said most of the district’s teachers did not prefer in-person instruction to start the year.

“It is about the health and safety of all of our staff members, parapros, bus drivers, the students, that’s absolutely at the forefront of what’s on everyone’s mind,” Culver said.

The board also announced that the popular Great Start Readiness Program, a state-funded preschool program, has been reinstated for one year. The district had cut the GSRP due to pandemic-related budget cuts, but a fundraising campaign by the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation and Rotary Charities saved it.

As far as online instruction, the district will use the Desire2Learn (D2L) educational software for online instruction, and will offer online learning options through Up North Virtual for parents who choose to keep their children home.

Classes in TCAPS are scheduled to start Sept. 8.