GBCS officials rush to resume face-to-face instruction on March 22

GRAND BLANC — Grand Blanc Community Schools administrators are scrambling to work out some of the details of a return to school plan ahead of a March 22 deadline.

The district stands to lose out on about $1 million in supplemental money from the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund if it doesn’t offer at least 20 hours of face-to-face instruction per week by the target date.

District officials already were drafting a blueprint for an April 19 return to school when state legislators approved HB 4048 on Tuesday, March 9. Also known as Public Act 3 of 2021, the new law provides additional emergency funds for districts that are not receiving at least $450 per pupil in ESSER moneys. ESSER funding is based on the percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches.

“But there’s a caveat,” said Superintendent Clarence Garner. “We can only get it if we offer at least 20 hours of face-to-face instruction to all students by March 22. It doesn’t mean they all have to attend, but we have to offer it.

“In Grand Blanc, we’re getting $325 per student from ESSER federal funds. What this equalization portion adds is $125 per kid. That amounts of roughly $1 million in additional dollars based on the fall student count.”

Garner said he is not pleased with the legislature’s decision since it puts Grand Blanc in a “terrible” position.

“I’m sure there are people listening here today who say this is just about the money,” he said at a special board of education meeting held Friday on a virtual format. “I understand.”

Garner said the district can use the supplemental funds in the 2021-22 school year.

“We know we are going to have fewer students next year, and we know (students) will need academic, emotional and mental support as they return to school,” he said.

The district already is down about 400 students, which equates to a loss of about $3 million heading into the next school calendar. In addition, state aid numbers remain unknown and educators throughout the state are concerned about how the pandemic will affect per-pupil funding.

“I don’t appreciate the position we’re in,” Garner said. “But, as superintendent, it’s hard to say no to additional funds. There is a lot we know we could do with this.”

The accelerated timeline has left many school board members uneasy. Some expressed concern about details such as food service, and safety and sanitation.

“How can we do this safely?” asked board member Martin Ray. “We were slow and steady. We were making sure our teachers were safe, and the community infection rate was low. How can we do this safely?”

“I don’t know if I have a good answer for that,” Garner responded.

The 6-foot social distancing requirement will not be achieved on the buses, and likely won’t be possible at all times in the buildings, he said.

There’s also the matter of the grab-and-go lunch plan in which the district provides students with lunches at the end of the school day, and the kids take them home to eat.

Board member Amy Facchinello urged the administration to come up with a better lunch plan.

“I just want to advocate for the students,” she said. “They’re going way too many hours without being able to get any food. It’s too long of a span.”

Garner noted that all students can receive free breakfast at the start of the day, and students can bring snacks from home to hold them over until they return home with their lunches. Allowances will be made for students with special health needs. Still, it’s not an ideal situation, he said.

“(It’s) something we’re going to have to figure out in time,” Garner said.

Under the accelerated plan, middle school students will attend school face-to-face from 8:05 a.m. to 1:06 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with remote support available from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Live remote classes will take place from 8:45 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and noon to 2:45 p.m. Fridays. High school students will have a similar schedule.

Class sizes will be large, roughly 30 students to a teacher, because many of the teachers are needed to provide online instruction for those families who opt to remain on a virtual format.

Masks will be mandatory, and students should bring water because the fountains are still off limits.