Schools offering options as they plan reopening


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The clock is ticking for Michigan educators working to solidify plans to reopen schools in the fall.

Under an executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, schools must adopt their plans by mid-August. As the time nears, educators said they are meeting around the clock to create a vision for the future.

“We strongly believe that we need to be prepared,” Rockford Public Schools Superintendent Mike Shibler, Ph.D., said.

He is studying for one of the most difficult exams of his career: how to safely reopen schools amid the coronavirus pandemic. He said he and his team have identified two ways to pass the test.

“We are going to be offering, on Aug. 24, that’s the first day of school, two options,” Shibler said. “The first option would be an online program; the other option would be in the classroom.”

A spokesperson for Grand Rapids Public Schools said the district is also planning for in-person learning, virtual learning and a hybrid of the two. Officials said they are surveying the community to gauge how to move forward.

“There’s a high level of anxiety about returning to in-school (learning),” GRPS spokesman John Helmholdt said. “Seventy-three percent of our parent respondents said they thought that virtual was the safest possible option, but a similar percentage said in-school was best for students academically.”

It’s a Catch-22 many parents are facing. Some are now weighing options to home-school.

“We have seen a massive uptick in people interested in home education for this next school year,” said Whitney Timmer of HSB Inc., which provides several educational resources for Michigan families.

The company’s focus lately is providing a $15 two-hour session for parents looking to home-school their kids.

“We go over anything and everything you need to know  properly and legally home-educate in the state of Michigan,” Timmer said.

Without a doubt, learning at every school or even home will look different this fall, but what stays the same is the need to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“We at Rockford will take our directives from medical experts and from the governor,” Shibler said.

The state on June 30 released its Return to School Roadmap, which includes guidance on safety protocols.

“Where we say things are strongly recommended, we really, really think you should try to implement those measures as much as feasibly possible,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, told News 8 Friday. “We put that language that guidance because we thought it would be important to protect the health and safety of children. No one wants to go back (to) closing schools. We know it’s best for the education of the students for them to be (in school) in person.”

Educators said they understand that all students don’t have equal access to technology. Rockford, Grand Rapids and Kent Intermediate School District officials said they are providing students with computers or tablets and means to connect to the internet.

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