Area schools are revealing their plans for the start of school this month.  Battle Creek’s school board voted 4-3 on Monday to approve the plan, which will offer K-5 students a choice of classroom or remote learning.  Grades 6-12 will be strictly on-line.

Battle Creek Superintendent Kimberly Carter was a guest on the 95.3 WBCK Morning Show with Tim Collins and explained the process for coming up with the plan.

“First and foremost, we looked at the executive order and safe start plan from the State of Michigan, and make sure we were creating plans that were in line with the expectations that we were given.  The priority is the health and safety of our students and staff, so we’ve been having a series of conversations with Superintendents across the county and with the Calhoun County Health Department.   We also put out surveys and we had over 300 responses to help us understand what our families wanted. We did some personal calls to our Latino and Burmese-American families.  We had town-halls with staff to get their feedback and we had a committee of over 50 individuals, with students, staff, administrators, and teachers coming together to ask ‘what can we do and how do we do this in a way that makes a good decision for everybody.”

Carter says a big challenge is getting a consensus with so many different family situations in the mix.

“It was almost a 30-30-30 split.  Some families wanted a hybrid, some wanted fully virtual, and some wanted in-person and it wasn’t a lean toward any one way.  Our decision couldn’t be based on emotion.  It has to be based on what we believe is best for the children that we serve, for the community that we serve, and first and foremost making sure that health and safety is the priority.“

Under the plan, grades K-5 will have some in-class learning available, but grades 6-12 will be strictly on-line learning.  Carter says they had to consider to what extent they could mitigate risk to the students and staff.   She says it comes down to trying to keep students in groups, to decrease the spread and movement.  We can do that at the elementary level.”  But Carter says that’s not feasible for the higher grades.   “In grades 6-12, students have several different classes scheduled.  They are moving throughout the day.   We believe it’s just not the appropriate time to bring them back for in-person learning.”

She says they’ll have controlled recess to give students a safe way to take a break, and they will have outdoor physical education classes.

Carter says with the option for elementary students to be in class, or online, they can social distance in the classroom, but she admits that students may only be 3 feet apart.  She says they are mandating that the students wear masks.   Students could end up being more than 3 feet apart, depending on class size.  The district has launched its Virtual Academy enrollment on line.  Once that is completed, they’ll have a better idea of what the classrooms will look like.

Carter says the staff is split about coming back to the classroom, just as the community is.  “There are many who know the power of in-person education and are supportive of coming back, but you can’t dismiss the fact that there is a fear of the unknown.”

Superintendent Carter also talked about the difference in the Virtual Academy and the remote learning experience.  “For our students in 6-12, I highly recommend that they stay with the remote learning experience.  It provides opportunities for our students to have live teaching sessions with their assigned teachers daily.   The Virtual Academy is for students who are a little bit more independent and self-directed. “

Battle Creek Schools are asking students to return the Chromebooks that were issued last spring, so they can be checked out and updated.   Carter says they’re also ready to deploy more Chromebooks to students if they need to go to remote learning for K-5.

She says they have a disinfectant team making sure that the school is clean and safe, but they will not be taking the temperatures of students as they enter school.  “The reason is that we have found that high fever in children is not a predominant indicator.”  Instead, the school will ask students and parents to do a daily self-assessment.

Will the pandemic affect the annual headcount and school funding?  Carter says it could, and she is asking citizens to contact their state legislators and asking them to consider using last year’s count to determine funding in this school year.

Carter says the STEM School will continue but in a remote learning environment.  Fremont Academy will offer some in-person learning for students.

Battle Creek Schools get started on August 26th.   Carter is encouraging parents to talk with their kids about the importance of social distancing, keeping themselves and others safe, and maybe even practicing the wearing of masks.  She says they’re making decisions on the information they have today.  “We don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”

Battle Creek Schools will have informational sessions on the Virtual Academy option on Facebook Live.   One is on Tuesday, August 11th  for K-5 at 5:30 pm, and the other, for grades 6-12 will be at 6:30 pm.

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