Students at Beverly Elementary during in-person learning. The Birmingham Public Schools board of education voted Tuesday to send students back to school five days a week beginning March 15. (Photo: Courtesy of Birmingham Public Schools)

Birmingham students are expected to return to the classroom in just more than a month after the most recent decision by the school board.

The Birmingham Public Schools board of education decided during a special meeting held online Tuesday morning that students across the district will return to the classrooms for full face-to-face instruction beginning March 15.

The board voted 5-2 in favor of moving the district to full in-person education after beginning school earlier this calendar year in a hybrid model. 

“This has not been easy. Our community has been torn apart by this. I believe many in our community have lost faith in our school district,” Amy Hochkammer, board treasurer, said. “(The hybrid) is not a model that works for working parents and does not work for many of the children. For that reason I will be voting to approve this resolution.”

The original resolution brought before the board by the district’s administration was to only bring elementary students back into the classroom on a full-time basis beginning next month. That resolution shifted when several board members expressed a desire to have all Birmingham students return to the classroom.

Board members Adrienne Young and Jennifer Rass voted against the proposal, with Rass saying she preferred to return students to the classroom once all teachers were vaccinated against the virus. Young said she had concerns over sending students back, especially as a new, more contagious strain of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 had been discovered in Ann Arbor.

“We’re making a choice to increase risk at a time where new, more contagious strains of the virus are shutting down entire departments and campuses in Washtenaw County,” she said.

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The decision comes after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer urged schools earlier this year to reopen their doors for in-person learning by March 1. 

Under the plan, elementary students enrolled through the Birmingham Virtual Academy will continue to take their classes online. 

“We will still operate the BVA,” interim superintendent George Heitsch said. “Our intention is to keep it in its current structure.”

Older students remaining in a virtual setting will have the option of livestreaming classes.

A survey conducted with nearly 3,000 parents and more than 300 district employees in the elementary levels of the district showed the desires of each group when it came to plans for returning to in-person instruction. The results showed 56% of parents had in-person learning as their first choice, followed by a hybrid model at 24% and the BVA at 20%. For instructors, 37% said they were willing to teach in person, along with 86% in a hybrid model and 73% in an all-virtual model. 

Heitsch said families can still make decisions they feel are right for them when it comes to returning to school. His recommendation to reopen schools for full instruction came after seeing several other area districts, including Walled Lake Consolidated Schools and several in Livingston County, move or maintain five-day weeks in person.

“I made this recommendation based on what I’ve seen around us be successful,” he said. “I know that not everybody in the community is going to be comfortable coming back face-to-face. I think the BVA is a real viable alternative for that. And I know there’s no right answer.”

Contact reporter David Veselenak at [email protected] or 734-678-6728. Follow him on Twitter @davidveselenak.

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