Flint, MI—Flint students will have the option to return to their classrooms or remain online starting Feb. 22 after school board members voted to approve hybrid learning plan at Wednesday night’s board meeting. 

The vote comes after Governor Gretchen Whitmer set a statewide goal for all districts to offer in-person learning no later than March 1.

Superintendent Anita Steward presented the district’s plan to board. According to a Flint Schools’ survey, 41.1% of families wish to return to school while 58.9% will continue remote instruction. 

Steward said in-person days will be staggered according to last name to maintain social distancing and safety. 

Students with last names beginning with A-L will attend school on Mondays and Tuesdays. Students with last names beginning with M-Z will attend school on Thursdays and Fridays. 

On Wednesdays, no students will be in the buildings. 

“This would allow for our schools to be cleaned and for staff to prepare for the flip of the next load of kids to come in on Thursday/ Friday,” Steward said. 

During the days students who opt for face-to-face instruction are not in classrooms they will be expected to attend classes online and work on assignments, Steward said.

“We wanted to start off with our scholars only being in school for two days. Our scholars have not been in school at all since March. So, almost a year ago. And so, we’re thinking that if we can start off with two days, just to see how it’s going, we don’t want to overload our buildings, our staff, nor our students,” she said. 

The plan passed 5-1 with Treasurer Laura MacIntyre as the sole nay vote. However, board and community members expressed several concerns. 

Staff returned to buildings Jan. 19 but have been responsible for cleaning their own classrooms, President of the United Teachers of Flint Karen Christian said in a public comment. 

“We’ve been out for several months, and classrooms should have already been cleaned so that teachers didn’t have to clean their classrooms when they came back. My question then is, if we’re going back to a hybrid system, how can we guarantee, after we’ve been out for so many months and classrooms not been cleaned the proper way, how can we guarantee that these classrooms are going to be cleaned for when we have a hybrid system?” Christian said. 

Secretary Danielle Green said it was time for the board to consider a new janitorial service. The district currently employs CSM Services. 

“We’ve been getting complaints about them since they stepped into our buildings about their lack of ability to keep buildings clean…They just don’t do a good job. No teachers should have to go into the building and clean themselves. That’s unacceptable,” Green said. 

Christian also raised questions about COVID-19 vaccinations for staff. On Jan. 6, Whitmer announced that school employees could begin receiving the vaccine starting Jan. 11 as the nation moved into Phase 1B of vaccine distribution. 

Vaccine supply is low across the country and there are not enough doses to meet demand. Genesee County has about 150,000 people who qualify for the vaccine in Phase 1B, which includes teachers, but they are still prioritizing Phase 1A individuals who have already signed up to get vaccinated. 

 “I can only think of a handful of teachers who have been able to actually get the appointment for a vaccine. A lot of us cannot,” Christian said. 

Due to overwhelming traffic on GCHD’s website as people tried to book appointments, the site crashed. GCHD moved their booking system to the County’s homepage. 

“A lot of people are very concerned about coming back face to face without having a vaccine. So, what is our district doing to try to go about getting vaccines for us?” Christian asked.   

Steward said she sent an email to staff asking who would be interested in taking the vaccine and remains in communication the Genesee County health officials. 

“I am in the process of working on a plan so that the staff of Flint Community Schools will be able to take the vaccine, those who want to. I am currently in the process of working with the health department so that we can possibly—possibly— have a time set aside for Flint Community Schools,” Steward said. 

Staff who are immunocompromised or who cannot return to the classrooms for medical reasons will have their cases considered on an individual basis. All staff working in the buildings will receive hazard or COVID-19 pay. 

“We’re bringing our a staff back a month before kids—a month before our kids— so that we can continue planning and working out all of the kinks before our kids come back February 22. That’s what this time is for…” Steward said. 

The district will also begin modifying classroom layouts, installing signage and other safety features, and bringing in additional personal protective equipment in preparation for students’ return. 

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...