TRAVERSE CITY — Whether or not to return to in-person school is back on the agenda.
The last time Traverse City Area Public Schools board members discussed going back to in-person instruction, more than 1,000 people tuned into the online meeting to see trustees vote 6-1 in favor of virtual instruction for two weeks and a return to face-to-face.
Vice President Jeff Leonhardt was the most outspoken against such a return and was the lone “no” vote.
Trustees will take up the matter again Monday, a week before the scheduled return to brick-and-mortar education at TCAPS and as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Trustee Jane Klegman requested at the August meeting that the board revisit Superintendent John VanWagoner’s recommendation.
Both Leonhardt and Klegman did not return requests for comment as of Friday evening.
Superintendent John VanWagoner stands by his recommendation and the board’s decision.
“I am moving forward with the plan the board passed over a month ago, and we’re all continuing on that path — unless I’m told otherwise,” VanWagoner said, adding that district officials have continued to evaluate the protocols for a safe return.
Staff spent last week teaching remotely and will do so again this week. Parents and students have the option next Monday of learning in school or at home. VanWagoner said offering different avenues to meet the needs of all TCAPS students is a responsibility of the staff.
Trustee Erica Moon Mohr, who spoke in favor of in-person instruction in August, said she received hundred of emails in the last few weeks — some supporting her view and others claiming her decision is akin to “conducting science experiments on kids.”
Moon Mohr said teachers at East Middle School also voiced to the board and administration that they do not feel safe returning to school, citing the inability to properly social distance, full classrooms and the exposure to students who could be asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19.
Although she understands the frustration of both parents and teachers, Moon Mohr said she is following the guidelines set forth in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s return-to-learn road map as well as information from local physicians and health department officials.
The Traverse City region is in phase 5, which allows for schools to be back in session. Masks are optional in phase 5, but TCAPS will require students and staff to wear them.
“As a community, we’ve done the right things. We’ve worn our masks. We’ve kept our numbers low. The reward, the whole reason for that, was to get our kids back in school,” Moon Mohr said.
Moon Mohr said three trustees, including herself, are in favor of face-to-face and three others want to stay virtual for the first quarter or semester of the school year.
Ben McGuire could cast the deciding vote, Moon Mohr said.
McGuire said Friday he does not expect a 4-3 vote and that the meeting is “probably going to be a little less exciting than what some people might think it will be.”
He did, however, admit the possibility of being the deciding vote comes with a lot of pressure.
McGuire said no one will be completely comfortable with going back to face-to-face instruction because it is difficult to “quantify the risk involved.” He added there have not been any significant changes in Traverse City to reverse the August decision.
“If we decided to postpone and things haven’t changed, then I’m not sure we would ever feel comfortable going back,” he said. “Our decision has to revolve around students and what’s best for their education.”
The board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday and can be seen on the TCAPS website.