Huron Valley, Roseville schools launch online learning programs for fall

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Some Michigan school districts are not waiting for the governor and her education council to come up with a plan to safely reopen classrooms, choosing instead to launch 100% online schools and programs as an option for K-12 students for the new school year.

A day after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she is optimistic students will return to in-person learning in the fall, two Metro Detroit school districts announced they are offering  full-time online learning programs  because some families are not comfortable coming back.

Huron Valley Schools, a brick-and-mortar district in Oakland County, said Thursday it will launch the Huron Valley Virtual Academy in an effort to meet the academic needs of all students who choose to stay home while they learn.

Roseville Community Schools also announced an online program for the fall using its K-12 online curriculum partner, Edgenuity. Students will take core online courses, as well as have the opportunity to take online electives, including career tech and performing arts courses, the district said.

The Huron Valley announcement said, "With the uncertainty caused by the global pandemic, the school district recognizes that some families will not be comfortable having students return to school buildings — even with additional safety precautions.

District officials said a parent survey found as many as 30% of current Huron Valley district families were interested in learning more about the virtual academy.

Superintendent Paul Salah said in the virtual academy setting, a much higher level of teacher to student engagement will occur than in the district’s continuity of learning plan in April and May.

"It’s important to recognize that the academic experience provided by the virtual academy will be significantly different from the district’s phase three learning plan implemented over the past several weeks,” Salah said. “My main message for families is HVS will have an option for you, regardless of the educational experience you’re seeking for your child."

Students enrolled in academy will be taught by Huron Valley Schools educators.

“We have learned a great deal over the past three months,” Salah said. “HVS is committed to delivering a flexible, rigorous program for its students. Although we recognize face-to-face instruction is the best-case scenario, remaining nimble is important for our school community’s success.”

Students in the Roseville Community Schools online learning program will be able to participate in school sports, band, and any other extracurricular activities.

Roseville district officials said the goal is a full return to school in the fall, but they wanted to give options to families attending the traditional brick-and-mortar district in Macomb County.

Roseville superintendent Mark Blaszkowski said the district is unsure of what the expectations from the state will be about opening schools. 

"We are advocates for face-to-face education because we have found that this method is the most effective for students, but we are developing options and will be ready to meet the needs of our parents and students," Blaszkowski said. "Online courses will be a part of the solution if it is what parents need."

Dave Rice, assistant superintendent, said with the distribution of iPads or laptops to all Roseville Community Schools students over the past several months, the district is equipped to meet any virtual learning needs.

"We understand that there are still strong concerns about COVID-19, and with those real concerns, we want to make sure we have real options for our community,” Rice said.

Several online-only K-12 schools already operate across the state as charter public schools. Traditional public schools typically do not operate full online programs alongside in-person instructional programs, although some traditional public school students take online courses in addition to traditional classes in school.

The state's 1.5 million K-12 students were sent home due to the viral pandemic in March. By April, all Michigan districts were required to design and launch full online programs to educate students at home though June, when the current school year ended.

This month, Michigan districts have begin offering tentative plans for the fall, with options for in-person learning, blended learning and fully online remote learning.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday she expects to announce by the end of the month a plan to restart in-person instruction in schools throughout the state, but it is likely to vary by region.

Whitmer's "Return to School Roadmap" will address health and safety requirements with which schools must comply, as well as potential differences depending on region and coronavirus activity. The rules and recommendations will apply to private and public schools and are scheduled to be released June 30.

"I am optimistic that we will return to in-person learning in the fall," Whitmer said. "Schools must make sure to enact strict safety measures to continue protecting educators, students and their families."

But the governor's office added that "Districts, students, staff, and families must be nimble and be prepared to move backwards if there is evidence of community spread of the virus."