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Berriman: High schoolers will be required to mask up

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena High School Principal Tom Berriman on Wednesday updates parents on the progress of the school’s reopening plans, some of which are still a work in progress.

ALPENA — Many students this year at Alpena High School will likely be upset, as they will be forced to wear face masks when class resumes.

During town hall on Wednesday, Alpena High administrators shared some of their preliminary plans to reopen the high school safely amid the coronavirus, while still being able to teach and operate effectively. Schools finished last school year online or through the mail after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer closed schools in mid-March to prevent the spread of the virus.

Throwing a potential wrench into the plans: Whitmer late Wednesday put new restrictions on northern Michigan, ordering that indoor events be limited to 10 people, down from 50, and prohibiting bars from offering indoor service. Bars had reopened in the northern Lower Peninsula and across the Upper Peninsula before Memorial Day.

It wasn’t immediately clear how Whitmer’s latest order would affect schools’ reopening plans.

Meanwhile, Alpena High School is seeking input from parents before its reopening plans are finalized.

Many questions, such as how breakfast and lunch will be served, whether sports will be offered, and how classes like choir, band, and gym will be handled, remain unanswered.

Once plans are finalized, they need to be approved by the Alpena-Montmorency-Alcona Educational Service District, and then the state.

By early August, parents will need to let the school know which of three learning options they want for their children. They can elect face-to-face instruction, internet learning, or homeschooling, which would involve the district sending an educator to students’ homes.

High School Principal Tom Berriman said a hybrid plan, with online and face-to-face schooling, is being crafted.

Berriman said one scenario being considered is having half of the roughly 1,200 students come to class on Mondays and Tuesdays, while the other kids do internet instruction at home. The school would be closed on Wednesday for a deep-clean, and then the other half of the kids would attend for Thursday and Friday, while those who attended Monday and Tuesday work online from home.

Berriman said the school will comply with health officials’ recommendations, and making sure students and staff are safe is the top priority.

“It is going to look a lot different, but different doesn’t mean bad,” he told parents at the school on Wednesday. “We are trying to come up with a plan that is right for you and keep everyone safe.”

The school will try to limit congestion by having one-way hallways and other steps will be taken to help prevent huddling or groups of kids congregating in close proximity to one another.

There will also be signage scattered around the school, reminding students to social distance and practice good hygiene.

Details about the mask policy was one of the most-asked questions. At elementary schools, students from kindergarten through fifth grade will not need to wear a mask, but students in grades six through 12 will be required to wear them.

“You will have to have a mask on any time you are in the building,” Berriman said.

It was made clear that, if a student needs to partially remove the mask for some fresh air, or a brief break, they will not be disciplined, but, for the most part, the masks should remain in place.

All students, no matter the grade, will have to wear masks on school buses and in common areas where it is difficult to practice social distancing.

The plans are nearing completion and will be shared at community forums on Monday in the Alpena High auditorium. The first one is slated to begin at 11 a.m. and the second at 6:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, Alcona Community Schools said in a news release that its mask policy mirrors Alpena’s.

The food services procedure will force students to pick up breakfast or lunch and eat it in their classrooms. Thorough health screenings will be done at the school, and, if a student exhibits COVID-19 symptoms or is ill, parents are urged to keep them home. The school said it will relax some of its truancy guidelines.

Rogers City Area Schools is still in the process of crafting its reopening plan, it told parents, who are asked to fill out a survey at rcashurons.org.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.

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