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Flint, MI—One week after Flint students started virtual instruction, some still do not have their school-issued Chromebooks and cannot attend online classes.
Some parents said they are frustrated by what they call a lack of communication and preparedness by Flint Community Schools.
Communication with FCS has been extremely difficult, Saundra Wesley said, who cares for her five grandchildren, all Flint Students. As of Monday, she said parents have had to rely on pre-recorded phone calls and Facebook updates for information. “We can’t get through to the schools,” she said.
Her four oldest grandchildren, who attend Holmes STEM Academy and Southwestern High School, were unable to participate in classes last week because they had not received their laptops, she said.
She said called the schools several times to inquire but could not get through.
Some students at Southwestern already have a device and FCS is ordering more supplies, Superintendent Anita Steward said.
“We are in the process of ordering additional content filtering licenses and hotspots for Southwestern students. We expect to have them mid-week for the additional families that are in need.”
FCS does not have a shortage of Chromebooks but is facing a shortage of wi-fi hotspots, Steward said.
Flint parents took to FCS’ Facebook page last week with concerns similar to Wesley’s. “The schools are experiencing a high volume of phone calls right now. We appreciate your patience as schools field incoming calls and requests,” FCS said in a Facebook comment.
Holmes STEM Academy sent out a robocall Monday morning announcing they would issue devices on a “first-come-first-serve” basis that same day, Wesley said. Southwestern has not yet communicated when students will receive their laptops, she said.
“The high school called Friday to tell me that the kids weren’t logging into their classrooms. And I’m like, ‘Well they don’t have a device, how are they going to log in?’” Wesley said.
Wesley said she is worried students will lose out on their education due to access issues. “They’re leaving some of these kids behind that don’t have access to the classroom. They’re saying, ‘don’t worry, they won’t be penalized for it,’ but they’re going to be penalized to some extent because they’re missing out.”
The Flint Board of Education approved the district’s Safe Return and Recovery Plan in July, which called for students to begin virtual instruction on Aug. 5 and then transition to in-person learning on Sept. 14.
The reopening plan highlighted professional development opportunities and training for FCS faculty and staff. But several parents said teachers were ill-prepared for the virtual start.
In a robocall to Pierce Elementary School parents, Principal Shamarion Grace apologized on behalf of the district. “Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, teachers were only given one day to prepare for instruction and they are doing their best to make sure learning occurs.”
Betty Nostrant, who has five children with special needs, said teachers at Durant-Tuuri-Mott Elementary did not receive their student list until 11 a.m. the day before school started. Teachers were still learning how to use Google Classroom on the first day back, she said.
“[Three of my kids’] teachers are basically just reading books to them…because they have no real work for them. My first grader stays online for less than 30 minutes each of the three days that he’s been going to school,” she said.
Nostrant is a full-time caregiver for her aunt who has COPD. She said she is struggling to manage her job, five kids and overseeing their online sessions. “I have to bring all my kids to work with me. And thank God it’s only my aunt because otherwise, I don’t know what I’d do.”
She said it is especially challenging now that her kids are not receiving special education services at school. Four of her kids have an Individualized Education Program and Durant-Tuuri-Mott has not supplied information on how or when her kids will receive these services in lieu of virtual instruction, Nostrant said.
Roi Johnson’s two children with special needs also attend Durant-Tuuri-Mott. Like Nostrant, she has not received information about services. “No one has reached out this school year as of yet. It just started, so I’m trying to give them a little time. But we have no direction on what are they going to do. My son’s teacher only contacted us on the first day of school and I haven’t heard from her since.”
Both Nostrant and Johnson said that the teachers are doing their best.
“I feel sorry for [teachers] and I don’t blame them at all. This is a district issue. They’re doing the best they can with what they have,” Nostrant said.