MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. (WOOD) — The first few days of school this year, Aundria White received robocalls from Muskegon Heights Public Academy reporting her twins were absent or late.
The family lives across the street from the school, and White knew her kids, both juniors, were in school and had arrived on time.
“I just went up there like, ‘Okay, what’s going on?'” White recalled asking when she showed up at school to investigate.
“So they call my kids down on the intercom … They came downstairs and they’re like, ‘We’ve been in class. We’ve been here the whole time,'” White remembered her teenage twins reporting.
White said she quickly discovered the source of confusion: The twins were at school alright. It was their teachers who were not.
“That’s when I found out there were no teachers. There were no emails put out. In orientation, there was nothing said about it,” she said.
In those first few days, said White, a security guard babysat one of her kid’s classes. Fast forward ten days, and White said the teacher shortage persists.
“Right now, my kids go to two classes,” explained White. “They have two teachers for their 11th grade class. After that, they’re either in the gym, or they’re coloring, or doing word searches. I can’t make this up.”
White said her twins love school, do well, and have options. She said while it’s too late to seek a school of choice placement this year, she’s considering moving them to Orchard View or Muskegon next year.
But she doesn’t want to leave Muskegon Heights schools, and she worries about kids who don’t have as much support at home nor options for school.
“What about those other kids that’s left behind?” asked White with tears welling up in her eyes.
“It’s hard to turn around and see those kids behind you and not being able to come with you. They should be able to have opportunity,” said White, one of several parents speaking out about the lack of teachers — and communication — at the Muskegon Heights Public Academy System.
The Michigan Department of Education told News 8 it’s aware of the complaints and is “looking into the matter.”
There’s a new company running the Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System this year, a Detroit-based charter school management firm called New Paradigm for Education.
“Like most school districts, charter schools, and businesses across the country, Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System is currently experiencing a staffing shortage,” wrote the president of the charter board, Leslie Kitchen-Slater, in a statement to News 8.
“New Paradigm for Education was hired on a compressed timeline and a number of teachers left the System for other opportunities prior to New Paradigm’s onboarding,” wrote Kitchen-Slater.
Still, the board president went on to say they “have staffed nearly all of our teaching positions with teachers with valid certificates or permits in compliance with Michigan law. No student is in a classroom without a teacher.”
News 8 responded to the statement by asking how many teachers and students are at the Academy, which serves 7th through 12th grades.
The law firm that sent the statement to News 8 responded, “There are 10 teachers and over 200 students in the middle/high school.”
The original statement acknowledged the System is still gathering curriculum materials, though it noted “much of those curriculum materials have already been provided to teachers.”
The board president said the System is still searching for special education teachers but has “contracted for a stop-gap solution with a virtual provider to ensure that all special education students are receiving the services they need and are entitled to under law.”
“We recognize the concerns of parents, many of us having been parents in or students of Muskegon Heights Public Schools or the System. Muskegon Heights Public School Academy and New Paradigm for Education have always encouraged communication and have done our best to share information in a timely and efficient manner,” wrote Kitchen-Slater.
The statement concluded by noting the System and New Paradigm are “working to constantly improve all our processes, including the sharing of information and communication.”