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Kent County school leaders making plans for fall semester

In a virtual press conference on Thursday, superintendents along with community, health and business leaders provided an update on the plans thus far.

KENT COUNTY, Mich. — There is still a lot unknown about the fall semester for Kent County Public Schools, but those tasked with planning for it say it's going to look vastly different. 

"It's highly unlikely that the school experience is going to be back to normal, anytime soon," said the Kent County Health Department's Director Dr. Adam London. "It's likely that kids won't be able to be 60 kids on a bus and we won't have 30 kids in the same time in a classroom, until we have better ways of stopping transmission."

London, joined by superintendents and community, business and health leaders in the county that make up the Kent Intermediate Superintendents Association's Future Committee, provided an update to their plans for reopening school, during a virtual press conference Thursday. 

Physical K-12 school buildings were emptied out in mid-March at the governor's order. Districts then scrambled to compile distanced learning plans in April, which is how students continue to learn as schools remain closed.

“It's very likely that a hybrid or blended model will be how schools open in the fall and we need to prepare for that,” said Kevin Polston, the superintendent of Godfrey-Lee Public Schools.

Polston, who chairs the committee, said the fall semester is set to begin Aug. 24 in Kent County, but a date for when plans will be finalized hasn't been determined. Districts have been advised by the committee to come up with several different plans comprised of varying degrees of social distancing. The safety protocols will be universal, but Polston said districts will have individual plans that will be condition specific and based on the county's available COVID-19 data. 

Dr. Ron Gorman, interim superintendent at Grand Rapids Public Schools, said they are making preparations, while knowing there could be last minute changes.

"We are cleaning our facilities, we are thinking about what masks and gloves look like in the fall, taking precautions with our transportation companies, but we're going to have to essentially turn on a dime," Gorman said. "We need to be proactive and also be ready to move when those executive orders and the parameters come out."

The committee announced that Kent Intermediate School District, which is comprised of 20 districts and over 100,000 students, will conduct an independent survey of all families to better understand the varying impact of COVID-19. 

“Your voice matters, and the outcome of this survey will inform our plans for returning to school," Gorman said. 

The survey is especially important for families in the black community who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, said Dallas Lenear. 

"The school reentry survey is designed to gather data along racial and ethnic, as well as socioeconomic lines, so that we can analyze the traumatic impact of this pandemic, and how it manifests in different ways throughout the community," said Lenear, who chairs the Black Impact Collective. "Breaking down the data will help us to meet the needs of all members of West Michigan.”

The committee provided snippets of their plans on May 28, like the possibility of districts offering choices for parents who would feel more comfortable with fully remote learning come fall, and the potential of a school shutting down should an outbreak occur. Details on how things like extracurricular activities and field trips would work were not yet available. 

School year plans will also hinge heavily on what funding looks like, which at the current date is projected to be cut severely due to the pandemic's ongoing blow to the economy. 

RELATED: West Michigan school districts concerned by potential cuts to budget

"If the cuts come to fruition, this will absolutely be devastating for our school districts," Gorman said. "I think right now what we can do as leaders is do as many preliminary things as possible."

Each district will disseminate the county-wide survey to its families within the coming days and it will remain open through June 10. Hard copies of the survey will be available upon request. 

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