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Flint, MI— Flint Schools is preparing buildings for students’ return on Feb. 22, 2021. District officials said progress is ongoing and they expect facilities will be ready by the projected start date.
“I have visited every building and talked to our principals. The buildings are coming along great. COVID teams and leadership teams have worked with them to ensure that processes and procedures are in place,” Assistant Superintendent Kevelin Jones told board members.
Virtual classes began Aug. 5, and Flint Schools has remained online since. On Jan. 8, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a statewide goal for all districts to offer an in-person learning option no later than Mar. 1. Following the announcement, the board approved a hybrid, in-person learning plan beginning Feb. 22.
According to a survey conducted by Flint Schools, 41.1% of families wish to return to school while 58.9% will continue remote instruction.
Safety provisions include arrows on the floor to control the flow of traffic and ensure proper social distancing, plexiglass barriers, personal protective equipment, and temperature check kiosks.
Though there is still work to be done, buildings are 99% complete, Jones said.
“The sneeze guards are in route but they will be in place by the 22nd… And there are some things that need to be moved,” he said.
Several board members requested walkthroughs prior to the return date.
Water at many of Flint Schools’ buildings is still unsafe to drink but district officials said they hope to complete testing on 81 ultraviolet water filtration stations donated by tech billionaire Elon Musk within the next two weeks. Until the stations are cleared for use, the district will have clean water available to students, Jones said.
Board members expressed concerns over janitorial capacity and schools’ ability to keep spaces properly sanitized. According to board members, parents and students have complained about the cleanliness of Flint Schools long before the pandemic.
Additionally, since staff returned to buildings on Jan. 19, teachers have had to clean their own classrooms, President of the Untied Teachers of Flint Karen Christian said at a January board meeting.
“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,” Christian said.
Director of Operations for Flint Schools William Chapman said there will be an increase in janitorial staff.
“Custodians will be sanitizing restrooms quite frequently during the day. They’re going to be sanitizing the doorknobs every restroom, all the touch points throughout the day,” Chapman said.
Board members asked the administration to conduct a confidential survey of teachers about the cleanliness of buildings and to voice their concerns.
“It seems to me that we can take a look at it seriously because this is a life-or-death situation. And I would never want our teachers or our administration or our students out there hanging if there’s something that we can do,” Board President Carol McIntosh said.
Superintendent Anita Steward and McIntosh said they would coordinate efforts to ensure a survey is sent out.
As teachers and students return to classrooms, concerns surrounding COVID-19 vaccinations are growing. Due to a nation-wide shortage of vaccines, the Genesee County Health Department is experiencing monumental delays vaccinating residents.
Medical Health Officer of the Genesee County Health Department Pamela Hackert said GCHD is working with superintendents from all districts in the county to establish a vaccination plan..
Of the district’s 1,292 staff members, 450 said they would take the vaccine, Steward said. Thus far, 180 have been vaccinated.
“It’s time for face-to-face education,” Steward said in a video posted to the district’s Facebook page. “Flint Community Schools is committed to ensure a safe and secure learning environment for all scholars and staff. Our safe return plan is in effect and proper PPE and procedures are in place.”