GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The start date for Grand Rapids Montessori Elementary School has been pushed back again. This time, the district said it is due to staff illnesses.

In an email to parents Monday, GRPS said it had “received four reports of mild illness” from people working at the school. The district decided to push back the start of school until after Monday, Aug. 28. It has not stated an official start date. Previously, the start date was Thursday. 

It is unclear what caused the illness but the district wrote that it has pulled everyone out of the building until it gets results back from air quality tests.

“The test that we are waiting for measures the amount of particulates or dust in the air, the nuisance dust that might be causing some of the irritation we are seeing. So we are waiting to see what those levels are to make sure they are at an appropriate level where people can be in the school comfortably,” said GRPS spokesperson Leon Hendrix. 

The district also canceled the planned open house on Aug. 22 for parents to see the progress of the building’s construction. GRPS said it will keep families updated on the changes that are happening at the school site.

“And also just to extend an apology and so we did not get this right in the way in which we wanted to,” says Leadriane Roby, the Grand Rapids Public Schools superintendent.

The original delay was due to supply and construction delays, which prevented teachers from getting into classrooms with enough time to prepare for students. The delay was meant to give teachers more time to get their classrooms and lesson plans ready. GRPS also said the air conditioning installation is still being worked on and there is more cosmetic work to be done in the academy.

“We’re really excited about the renovations that are happening here. Unfortunately with some supply chain issues and some other construction delays, we did get finished and get in a place to welcome our staff into the building later than expected, and we just needed to give them more time, so we can properly welcome those scholars to school,” Hendrix.

The delay is causing major concern and push back from the community.

“The treatment of our teachers and staff is absolutely unacceptable. They go above and beyond for our children every day. They stay in this profession knowing very well that one day it could cause them to give their lives for our kids,” one GRPS parent said. 

At the Grand Rapids Public School board regular meeting Monday night, public commenters mentioned health and air quality concerns, a lack of equity considerations regarding families who don’t have access to babysitters and those who rely on school lunch.

“I have asthma so I am very worried about what our safety plans could be,” one GRPS student said. 

People are also demanding answers about why they say there is a lack of a contingency plan from GRPS.

“I am also very upset that there is a contingency plan that does not allow for parents and caregivers who have no ability to have their kids start delayed. There is no equity consistency in this, and I am very upset about this,” said one GRPS Montessori Elementary parent of two. 

GRPS said they do have a contingency plan, which is to delay schools. 

“We believe this is only going to impact our school year for the one school for a few days, so we find it most prudent to kind of just slow down the start of school and bring our scholars in to start fresh,” said Hendrix. 

He also said GRPS is aiming to work with local resources to provide childcare options to families.


The lack of air conditioning is another concern for some parents. There are currently six schools in GRPS that do not have an air conditioning system. Those schools are Stocking Elementary, Aberdeen Academy, Mulick Park Elementary, Grand Rapids Montessori and Southeast Career Pathways. Kent Hills Elementary has partial air conditioning. 

The district is planning on having working air conditioning at Grand Rapids Montessori Academy in October and in September at Kent Hills Elementary. 

Some parents are concerned, since temperatures could be near 90 degrees this week. Ericka Lozano-Buhl said she is worried to send her 9-year-old daughter back to school. She attends Grand Rapids Montessori Academy.

“I’m worried about the heat. Most of all — and that was her concern too — she’s on the third floor. The third floor gets extremely hot … The library gets really hot. Everywhere in the school gets extremely hot,” Lozano-Buhl said. “I feel like it could have been considered next week to give the teachers some extra time and to kind of get past that heat bump where, who knows, we may have a district wide heat day.”

She said the heat has affected her daughter in the past and that the changing start date could make it hard on parents and teachers to find available child care. 

“There was days when I picked her up and she was red and sweating and gulping water in the car. And they have water bottles, but she’s like, ‘Turn on the AC, it’s so hot,'” said Lozano-Buhl. “It’s, it’s really uncomfortable. And again, this is not just our school. This is every single school across the district without AC. The kids, the staff, the teachers are all dealing with this and it’s unacceptable.”

The district said it does have a plan if the schools get too hot. It is continually monitoring temperatures and if they rise, GRPS will cancel school. 

“There are a lot of variables that weigh into our decisions when it comes to canceling school due to weather. But the biggest one, of course, is whether or not we feel we can conduct school in an environment that is conducive to learning and most importantly, is safe for everyone here. So, we’ll make those assessments. We’ll be following the forecast. We’ll be following our ability to maintain an appropriate temperature in our school buildings,” Hendrix said. 

If the district decides to close schools, it said it tries to alert families as soon as possible. GRPS said it tries to make the decision the night before and let parents know, but the latest parents would know is by 5 a.m. the day of.