GBCS officials fine tune plans to bring all students back by spring

Students returning to the classroom at Indian Hill Elementary School in Grand Blanc. Photo by Lania Rocha

Students returning to the classroom at Indian Hill Elementary School in Grand Blanc. Photo by Lania Rocha

GRAND BLANC — The hallowed halls of learning at Grand Blanc Community Schools soon could be buzzing with the voices of thousands of students returning to the classroom, some for the first time this school year.

Following the state-mandated pause in face-to-face instruction in November, many elementary school children returned to school Tuesday.

“We’re bringing them back one day a week in cohorts,” said Superintendent Clarence Garner. “We’re keeping class sizes at 12 to 14 with social distancing.”

The students are attending in a hybrid format, with half going to class on Wednesdays, the other half on Thursdays, and with live remote learning Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays.

The return will allow educators to adjust and prepare to resume regular classroom instruction for all students, which they hope to do by late March.

“Our secondary kids have not been in school since last March,” said Garner. “We have 6th graders who’ve never been in the middle school, and freshmen who’ve never been in the high school.”

There are many logistical issues to consider, Garner said.

With the expectation that safety protocols, such as masks and social distancing, will remain in place, administrators are looking at how to manage lunchtime, transportation, and student movement within the buildings.

“When you look at the high school, if we were to bring back just half the kids, that’s 1,000 kids,” Garner said. “So, trying to have them eat lunch at school and adhere to social distancing is almost impossible. That’s one of the things we will have to work out.

“The other piece, when we talk about transportation, our biggest issue is staffing. Right now, we’re short 24 custodians, seven drivers and 11 food service workers. So, another hurdle is making sure we have enough people in those positions to meet the needs of the kids.”

That will mean making sure the staff is vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus so the district doesn’t end up going backward.

In the coming weeks, district officials will attempt to bring more students into the classrooms, and increase the number of days the students are in school.

“We’re starting a little slow to get all the logistical stuff worked out,” Garner said. “We will evaluate our progress every two weeks.”

He expects about 6,000 of the roughly 7,900 students to be back in school before the end of the 2020-21 school calendar. The rest will remain in the remote learning format.

“We will still offer Bobcat Virtual,” he said. “We have just less than 2,000 kids in that now. If they want to stay in virtual, they can.

“Even moving forward into next school year, they will have that option. I think that will be part of Grand Blanc moving forward. I don’t see that going away, even when the virus is under control.”

The virtual modality allows the district to serve families with children who may be homebound because of medical concerns or other extenuating circumstances that require them to be away from the community for extended periods.

“The virtual academy allows us to continue to educate those kids without them being on campus,” Garner said. “We know there is a need for that even when we get back to normal.”

Garner said the staff is eager to get the kids back on their normal schedules.

“I know some people would like to see us do it all tomorrow, but we’re trying to be cautious and avoid major obstacles and have to shut back down,” he said.

“I do believe it will happen. If we can follow the safety mitigation, I think we’re on target to end our year with some of the traditions we’ve always had, like the graduation ceremony and other year-end activities.”