Teachers: Plenty of problems to tackle before fall school


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — President Donald Trump threatened school funding if they don’t reopen in the fall, but local teachers say a lot of planning still needs to be done before in-person learning is viable.

In a Wednesday tweet, Trump criticized guidelines for reopening schools released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, calling them “very tough and expensive.”

“In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS,” Trump tweeted.

He went on to say if schools do not open in the fall, he “may cut off funding.”

Teachers at local districts, which have been discussing how to resume school since closing in March, say there are still many questions that need answers before doors can open.

“How are we going to provide safe distancing? PPE? How are we going to monitor health and what are the procedures in place if someone is sick?” listed Blake Mazurek, who teaches eighth grade U.S. history at Grandville Middle School. “How do we socially distance in a hallway that was never designed for that? In a classroom where I have 30-plus children and we’re packed to the gills, how do we do that? Even with 20?”

Mazurek is also the president for the Grandville Education Association. He said the group has been working closely with the district to put together a plan for fall learning but everything remains uncertain.

“We are doing the work to try to make that happen but it’s not at all costs. The health and safety of everyone who steps foot in this building is paramount,” Mazurek said.

Teachers say they recognize that school is the best place for kids to learn but there is little guidance on the best way to keep them safe in the traditional classroom setting.

“I’m just certain that saying everybody has to go back right now is a mistake and it’s not the right choice,” Kentwood Public Schools teacher Ali Bendert said.

Bendert has been teaching music at Bowen Elementary and Challenger Elementary for 13 years. She said she sees about 700 to 800 students per week.

“We’re going to be essential workers at that point. Even though most statistics show that children don’t get it or pass it as well, adults will be with each other. It just seems reckless to say everybody has to go back when every situation is going to be so different,” Bendert said.

Grand Rapids Public Schools math teacher Wendy Winston says her biggest fear is a child spreading the virus to family members or potentially dying of the virus themselves.

“If a student died from a shooting, someone comes into a building and takes someone’s life, I would’ve felt like I should’ve done something more to prevent that. I feel the same way about coronavirus,” Winston said.

Winston, who teaches at Grand Rapids University Prep Academy, said adjusting to online schooling on the fly was difficult for some students but others excelled. She said hybrid learning will likely be one of the things her district considers for the upcoming school year.

Winston said she also thinks staggering classes and significantly cutting down class sizes will be imperative to keeping students from spreading or contracting the virus. She said that will mean hiring more staff and finding additional space so students can practice social distancing.

As districts work around the clock to get answers, they hope they’ll find support at the state and federal level — both financially and emotionally.

“We of course have to be looking at the safety and well-being of our kids. Every one of those kids that walks through those doors become our kids,” Mazurek said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer released guidance to reopen schools last week. She says schools opening for in-person learning is dependent on the outbreak remaining manageable. On Thursday, she said wearing masks is going to be key in making that happen.

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