Kalamazoo superintendent lays out options for fall school

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek
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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Kalamazoo Public Schools parents got a clearer idea Thursday night of what school might look like in the fall.  

During a virtual meeting, Superintendent Dr. Rita Raichoudhuri gave a presentation on input the district has received from several stakeholders over the last few weeks.

Those comments showed it was very important to parents that they have a choice when learning resumes in the fall. As a result, Raichoudhuri presented the board with the three models her schools will use for instruction. There will be options for 100% virtual learning, in-person instruction five days per week and a hybrid model blending virtual and in-person.  

The input from parents made it clear that spring was hard on everyone. Raichoudhuri said virtual learning in the fall will look very different from what parents saw in the spring. There will be more instruction during the week and tech support for parents.

Raichoudhuri told trustees that administrators were reinventing the way to “deliver instruction to children during the global pandemic.” She said it will be important during the first few days and perhaps weeks of school for the district to help students with social and emotional issues that have arisen during the last several months.  

The superintendent told board members she is using three sources for guidance: the American Academy of Pediatrics, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s MI Safe Schools Return to School Roadmap released last week.

Under the governor’s guidance, schools are allowed to open for in-person instruction with strong safety protocols in place while Michigan is in phase 4 of the state’s six-phase reopening plan — which the southern part of the state is in now.

The American Academy of Pediatrics “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming year should start with a goal of having students physically in school.”

Raichoudhuri said she is still waiting for more specific guidance from the CDC to do thorough planning.  

She acknowledged the cost of safety measures will be a factor in what the district is able to implement. Early in the meeting, trustees approved a purchase order for close to $200,000 in paper masks. Though noted funding will be important, Raichoudhuri stressed to the board safety of students and staff is “first priority in planning.”  

Board Vice President TiAnna Harrison asked Raichoudhuri about statements made by President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos earlier this week insisting schools must reopen in the fall. Raichoudhuri admitted there is a concern federal funding could be withheld if schools don’t open. She said as of now, administrators don’t believe it to be an issue because they are prioritizing parental choice.  

“What I don’t know is if she’s (DeVos) going to come back and say, no virtual learning opting at all,” Raichoudhuri said. “She hasn’t said that. She just said if schools don’t open in the fall, you’re going to lose federal funding.”  

Deputy Superintendent Gary Start said the district stands to lose about $6 million if federal funding is withheld.  

One wrinkle in the plan, according to Raichoudhuri, is different guidance coming from the federal and state governments. She told the board under Whitmer’s plan, if a region regresses to phase 3, schools would be forced to close.

“It will be very interesting,” Raichoudhuri said. “School districts will be put in a very precarious situation of deciding between state and federal mandates.”

She said her district would follow the state’s guidance even if it means the loss of federal funding.  

Kalamazoo Public Schools will release a final plan for school this fall Aug 3. The Board of Education will vote on that plan at its Aug. 13 meeting. The first day of school is scheduled for Aug. 31.  

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