GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids Public Schools will expand in-person instruction for K-8 students from two days a week to four days a week, following a unanimous vote from the district’s school board.

The new model will begin on April 12. Virtual learning will still be offered by the district. 

“Based on the latest data from CDC guidance on social distancing that switched from 6-foot to 3-feet in the classroom, the Kent County Health Department has advised pre-K through eighth grade is safe to return to in person,” district spokesperson John Helmholdt said. “There’s been a strong push now at the federal level, but definitely at the state and now county level, saying we really need to put an emphasis on getting students back in school, in person.”

More kids will be in classrooms at the same time with the four-day model. 

“We literally measured 3-feet … to make sure that with the combined cohorts, will they fit in compliance with 3-foot social distancing,” Helmholdt said. 

The Grand Rapids Education Association, which represents teachers and other licensed staff in schools, is worried about how the district can make the transition safely. Their main concern is ventilation in buildings. 

“We have over 70 classrooms from the staff that’s responded, that has a combined cohort of more than what the data shows for their air exchange,” Mary Bouwense, the association’s president, said. 

The district says it’ll do whatever is necessary to ensure safety measures are met. 

“There is a very small percentage of classrooms that will not be able to serve all cohort A and B in that same classrooms,” Helmholdt said. “So instead, we have to look at alternatives. So, it could be a media center. There could be another open space that’s utilized.” 

Association members aren’t sure if having unique classroom setups will lead to effective instruction.

“We’ve heard some frustration when teachers start looking at their spaces and going, ‘how am I going to do this?'” Bouwense said. “This is a lot of students, I don’t think I can make this work.”

Parents who don’t want their kids in a four day in-person model can move their kids to the virtual route. 

With less than 20 days of instruction left for pre-K students, the district is choosing to leave them in the two-day model. 

The district is also looking at putting high school students in a four-day model later in the school year. 

“We are seeking guidance from Kent County Health Department,” Helmholdt said. “Based on some of positivity rate ticking up now, they’re seeing more spread associated with high school, college students and those particularly related to sports. As of right now, the health department is advising we do not expand 9-12.”