I agree with everything in this letter.
Chelsea Parents Prefer In-person Learning, Chelsea Administration Does Not
Chelsea parents prefer in-person learning; Chelsea Administration does not
The overwhelming majority of Chelsea School District families have committed to returning to in-person learning for the remainder of the year; however these same families have yet to see an increase in in-person learning. The March 26th commitment survey results obtained from Dr. Helber this week revealed that over 80% of students across all four schools have committed to return to full-time in-person learning. It is recognized that due to recent COVID trends some families may no longer be comfortable with in-person learning and choose to return to virtual; however, it is not likely this would result in the flip of the majority to virtual learning. Despite the preference to return to in-person learning by the majority of families, Chelsea remains in hybrid/virtual learning models with no confirmed date to increase in-person learning.
Unlike Chelsea, next week Dexter and Saline districts will be INCREASING in-person learning in their districts (https://thesalinepost.com/g/saline-mi/n/27386/saline-schools-plan-return-4-day-week-person-learning-next-week-decision-friday?fbclid=IwAR1_7boLVxgotVYoWgYVpF3ed2ImwOW_24VQcyBaSaYcCKIIPlD1pvggEUA). At the April 12th School Board Meeting Dr. Helber’s plan to delay students returning to in-person learning until April 26th was approved by a 5-1 vote. Rising COVID numbers were cited as the reason for the delay. However, all school districts in Washtenaw County use the same COVID date from the Washtenaw County Health Department (WCHD). So why are there such drastic differences in access to in-person learning across our county? Or, more specifically, why is it safer to go to school in Dexter or Saline than it is in Chelsea?
The story keeps changing as district excuses accumulate. Dr Helber, at the March 8th presentation to the school board, stated that Chelsea was not following what other districts were doing, specifically Dexter and Saline, because Chelsea decided to offer the opportunity for all staff to be “fully vaccinated before we bring students back into the buildings”. However, the last group of teachers received their second dose of the Moderna vaccine on April 6th. Even with allowing the two following weeks to reach optimal immunity, we have met that criteria. However, Chelsea students have not returned to full-time in-person learning.
Dr. Helber also noted at that meeting “that throughout the year given some space after a break to make sure that it is safe for people to come back to school considering that they may have travelled over that time and there might be some increased cases”. Therefore, it was planned to return to in-person learning 2-weeks after returning to spring break to account for this possible spike in cases caused by travel during natural breaks in the school schedule. Therefore, the return to in-person learning was set for April 19th. Unfortunately, Chelsea students will not be returning to full-time in-person learning on that date.
A third excuse was teacher planning time. Chelsea has chosen to ask teachers to spend their normal planning time wiping desks. Because of this, Helber must make space in what should be “learning time” for the teachers to plan. Wouldn’t it make more sense to use the quick-sprayers utilized in other districts or to hire additional personnel with the covid funding to free up teachers to educate children? That’s what the money was for. Parents also offered to assist with cleaning and watching recess; however, they are told they are not allowed in the building.
At the last School Board meeting on April 12th, two significant developments occurred. First, Dr. Helber requested the authority to change the COVID learning plan without seeking Board approval. Although it is the School Board’s job to set the vision for the district and the Superintendent carries it out, the Trustees voted 5-2 to approve Dr. Helber’s request and abdicate their responsibility. Therefore, going forward, Dr. Helber will determine on a weekly basis whether students return to and/or continue with full-time in-person learning. Should the School Board disagree with Dr. Helber’s decision-making they would have to make a motion to return authority to the School Board which would need to be approved by a majority vote. Based on historical voting trends, it does not appear that this is likely. The future of Chelsea students is in the hands of Dr. Helber without any checks or balances.
Dr. Helber’s next recommendation at that School Board meeting was to delay the return to in-person learning by a week due to rising COVID numbers. This recommendation is more aggressive than Governor Whitmer’s and the MDHHS suggestions in the Friday, April 9th press conference, which suggested a 2-week pause in high school in-person learning and student athletics. The state did not recommend pausing elementary or middle school in-person learning. Again, surrounding school districts continued with elementary in-person learning. What scientific data is Dr. Helber using to go beyond the MDHHS recommendation and withholding access to in-person learning to Chelea’s youngest learners?
Further, Chelsea athletics continue contrary to MDHHS recommendations. Despite glaring inconsistencies, a plan to return to in-person learning for 4.5 days a week, Friday half-day, with a target date of April 26th was approved by a 5-1 vote. Again, while surrounding districts remained in school and are increasing in-person next week, Chelsea will remain stagnant in hybrid and virtual learning models with no definitive date to return. Districts around the county are safely bringing kids back in to the classrooms; it appears that Chelsea’s superintendent continues to find ways to keep students out of the buildings.
The staff have had the opportunity to be “fully vaccinated”, a 2-week safety buffer from spring break was built-in to the plan, we have accommodated teacher planning time, and yet our Chelsea students are not in school and families do not have a confirmed date to return to in-person learning. Dr. Helber has set out 5 arbitrary metrics that are required to be met before returning to school. These metrics are as follows:
- 5-<20 new cases per 100,000 - Low to Moderate Transmission (CDC Guidance)
- 3-5% Test Positivity Rate - Low Transmission (CDC Guidance)
- Decrease in internal Cases - 10 incidents or Less (CSD Dashboard)
- Decrease in Hospitalization (MDHHS guidance)
- Decrease in cases for 0-17 year olds (Washtenaw County Guidance)
It should be noted that all five of these criteria have not been met at the same time since June 2020. These metrics are arbitrary, ill-considered, outdated, and will prevent students returning to school.
Chelsea school district has allowed for staff to be fully vaccinated, installed air filtration systems, created outdoor learning spaces, and taken other mitigation strategies to make the safest learning environment possible. Further there have been no school outbreaks or instances of in-school transmission since the beginning of this year (https://www.michigan.gov/coronavirus/0,9753,7-406-98163_98173_102480---,00.html). It is time for Dr. Helber to listen to parents and join surrounding school districts by increasing in-person learning without further delay. It is time to put Chelsea students first.
Stop making excuses. Chelsea families have weighed the risks and the overwhelming majority have decided that the benefits of in-person learning--quality of education, social-emotional support--outweigh the potential risks. Parents do not need Dr. Helber or the administration to determine what is safe for their students--move forward with virtual and in-person options and let the parents decide.