Flint, MI— After a year of remote learning, some Flint students will return to classrooms starting March 15, 2021. Preparations for in-person instruction have been months in the making, and though progress hasn’t always been smooth, district officials said every precaution is now in place.
Safety provisions include signage on floors to control the flow of traffic and ensure proper social distancing, sneeze guards, personal protective equipment, and temperature check kiosks.
Classrooms and commonly touched surfaces are sanitized every hour. Janitorial staff must sign their name and note the time on record logs to ensure they are being cleaned frequently.
“I think our staff is prepared adequately,” Principal of Freeman Elementary Anna Johnson said. “Emotionally, we’ve been ready to see our kids. We want to see them face-to-face.”
There are an 350 students enrolled at Freeman, 160 have opted to return for in-person instruction.
Owl Labs, a teleconferencing system, will be used to create hybrid classroom environment. The technology allows students who are remote to see and interact with their peers as if they were there.
Flint Community Schools is reintroducing students in two phases. Pre-k through 3rd grade will return March 15, while 4th through 12thgrade will return March 22.
“The reason we chose that is, because we were coming back on the 15th, we didn’t want it all to just happen so fast,” Assistant Superintendent Kevelin Jones said, adding that sneeze guards are still being installed for 4th through 12th grade classrooms.
The FCS Board of Education originally voted for students to resume in-person learning on Feb. 22, but after a tumultuous board meeting on Feb. 17 and concerns over sneeze guard installation, district officials announced that schools would not reopen as planned.
“Sneeze guards have been something that our board some of our families have really wanted. It was not something that was CDC mandated nor was it in our Return to Learn Plan. But because our board wanted it, and some of our families and teachers as well…we wanted to make sure that we adhere to that,” Jones said.
Part of the trouble was ensuring sneeze guards were available for students of all heights as some are shorter than others, Jones said.
About half of the district’s staff has been vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Our health services have been offering a lot of opportunities for staff to get their vaccinations,” Johnson said, adding that not every staff member wants to get vaccinated, but it’s been made available to them.
“It’s a personal choice,” Jones said. “We’re constantly finding ways to ensure that our staff is safe from the virus and we’ve just taken it one day at a time.”
The district is also in the early stages of introducing rapid testing for teachers. The voluntary program is offered through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to all Pre-K–12 schools at no cost. The program will not be active by March 15, Jones said.
“I feel 120% safe with kids coming back to school… Me, as a classroom teacher, who is going to be going home to my family, I feel completely comfortable.” Krissy Gats said, a 5th and 6th grade English Language Arts teacher at Freeman.
Though community members and teachers are divided on the decision to return to school, Jones said they are following the advice of the health community and asks parents to trust the district.
“Trust that we’re going to treat your children like we would treat our own. And we want to do our very best to serve our scholars and do our very best to be there for our families as a whole… It’s a tough time. COVID is real. And if we stand together and work together, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.”