Schools prepare for fall return amid pandemic


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With the warm weather and parks opening back up, there is a sense of cautious normal in the air.

But it’s mid-June, so there is also a sense the start of the school year is just around the corner.

“This fall, it’s just tricky thinking about what it’s going to look like. And everybody’s just waiting on more details,” said Debbie Schuitema as she played with her three children, two who are of school age, and the Cherry Street Park splashpad.

A few months ago, districts scrambled to provide remote learning inside the Grand Rapids Public Schools Administration Building.

Over the summer, the task will be figuring out how to get the kids back in class and come up with plans B, C and D if COVID-19 cases begin to rise.

“We’ve been building multiple plans that assume everything from 100% in person, 100% online and a hybrid in between,” said John Helmholdt, Grand Rapids Public Schools’ executive director of communications and external affairs.

“We’re going to have to be able to pivot on a minute’s notice if there’s a spike in the number of cases. If you get one case at one school, how do we pivot so that one school may be closed? We go online for a few weeks until they can return. There’s a lot of moving parts to this.”

Helmholdt says expect students to be impacted by many of the same rules and procedures many of us are following now.

“Everything from daily temperature checks. Social distancing . Reduced capacity in the buildings. You may have alternating days or ours or weeks,” Helmholdt said.

Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced plans to reopen schools this fall.

Among educators helping out together guidelines for reopening schools is Godfrey Lee Superintendent Kevin Polston.

He is part of the governor’s Return to Learning Advisory Council.

“The gravity of the work is not lost on the council, but also the timelines. People need time to plan,” Polston said.

Polston can’t talk specifics until the governor’s office releases the plan on June 30.

But he says it’s designed with safety in mind and driven by data.

Right now, COVID-19 appears to be under control in Michigan.

But districts will need to be ready if cases begin to rise in the fall.

“Our council is going through the roadmap in it’s draft form right now, with the mindset that we want this to be something each and every school district across the state can implement to meet the needs of the children that they serve,” Polston said.

But will parents feel comfortable sending their kids back to class?

With two of her oldest set to return to the classroom this fall, Schuitema says she’s confident they’ll be safe.

“If the schools are open, I think they’ll be open because it’s safe to do so,” she said.

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