Flint, MI— Students and their families will have the option to return to classrooms starting March 15 after the Flint Schools Board of Education adopted a hybrid, in-person learning plan at Wednesday’s board meeting.

Students who choose in-person instruction will return in two groups. Special education students and preschool through third grade will go back on March 15. Fourth through 12th grades will return the following Monday, March 22. 

Parents who don’t want to send their children to school have the option to continue online learning at home.

Flint Community Schools is one of the last districts in Michigan to reopen. 

The board 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 guards, district officials announced that schools would not reopen as planned. 

“Unfortunately, there were concerns regarding the sneeze guards—an additional safely measure that, while not a requirement for in-person learning, is something our board members, families and staff have expressed a strong desire to have in place,” said Flint Schools Superintendent Anita Steward in a letter to students and families regarding the last-minute decision. 

Assistant Superintendent Kevelin Jones informed board members that the sneeze guards in special education and Pre-K – 3rd grade classrooms are installed. Sneeze guards in 4th-7th grade classrooms will be installed next week. 

Jones added that 8th – 12th graders will have mobile sneeze guards to carry with them between classes.  

However, a few Flint Schools teachers said there have been issues with sneeze guards. 

“The sneeze guards, I received mine today. They went not there yesterday, and they were not placed on my students desks. They were left in a pile on a table. They were just left there for me to install and put on myself. No direction. No advice…I’m one of several teachers that happened to,” Debbie Rinoldo Hopkins said during public comment. 

Melanie Hemphill said that sneeze guards provided at Pierce Elementary weren’t properly sized.  

“We received sneeze guards but they weren’t comparable to the ones that were given to teachers at other buildings. So, the sneeze guards are the size of a student’s desk, it really offers no coverage at all,” Hemphill said. 

The plan passed 5-1 with Treasurer Laura MacIntyre as the sole ‘no’ vote. Board Secretary Danielle Green was absent. 

“It seems we’re playing a dangerous game with people’s lives. I will not be voting to reopen schools…I think this is the most ill-advised decision that board has made. I strongly urge the rest of the board to really consider the gravity of what they’re about to do…I will not be supporting the endangerment of children,” MacIntyre said. 

Before the vote, several community members voiced their concerns over sending children back to classrooms. 

Keishaun Wade, a Flint schools alum who was offered a full-ride scholarship to Cornell University, said the district doesn’t have to be like other districts. 

“I just really want to know what will it take as a district for us not to consider this option. Would it actually take the deaths of our students and their families to understand that we shouldn’t do this?” Wade said. 

Flint activist Claudia Perkins-Milton shared similar sentiments.

“I, too, am concerned about the schools opening back up. I wonder about the health and safety of the students as well as the teachers…I mean, we’re trying to get out of a community outbreak…And I hope and pray that you consider that before you decide to open up the schools,” Perkins-Milton said. 

According to a Flint Schools’ survey, 41.1% of families wish to return to schools 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 so they can be cleaned. 

“I want to speak to the public, and let the public know that each one of us hear you from different angles. I don’t think there’s one board member on this board, wish anything or hope anything bad for you or your children. We are making a decision in the midst of a pandemic… Only thing left now is to pray, because we don’t know the beginning or the end,” Assistant Secretary/Treasurer Joyce Ellis-McNeal said. 

Carmen Nesbitt

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...

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