SWARTZ CREEK — The Swartz Creek Community Schools Board of Education voted unanimously last week to delay the start of the 2020-21 school year one week.
Classes will begin Sept. 8 with a half day in the afternoon and will continue with half days in the morning on Sept. 9 and 10. The change will not affect the schedule for the end of the school year, Superintendent Ben Mainka said.
The extra week will give teachers more time to prepare and adjust to the ever-changing safety guidelines resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, Mainka said.
It also will allow parents and students who opted for the online or blended formats to become better acquainted with the online platforms they will use, he said.
“We’re running into some complications that makes me uneasy about starting school on September 1,” Mainka told the Board of Education. “I’m recommending, if you feel it is appropriate, a motion to start September 8. It will give us an additional week to ensure our teachers have the supports they need, to make sure they have the training they need.
“Teachers will have three additional days to train, prepare, get their classes set up … they will have the support and the time they need to walk into the classroom on September 8 and be ready to go.”
He said teams of educators are working diligently to devise plans that accommodate state and county safety regulations, as well as parents’ choices for how their children will receive an education this year.
“What we’re trying to fight for is the opportunity for parents to choose,” Mainka said. “Our philosophy has been we want to fight for the rights of every kid.
“I’m not minimizing the safety. We believe, if we’re given the opportunity to have a face-to-face model following stringent guidelines, we’re going to do that. We’re trying to provide a support system for every child.”
Individual school principals were to send out more specific instructions last Friday.
So far, about 60 percent of parents/students have opted for the in-school learning option. Another 20 percent will go fully online, and 20 percent chose the blended options in which half of those students will go to school two days per week, the other half will go a different two days per week, and the rest of the time they will learn online.
Mainka said the blended format is at capacity so the district is not accepting any more children into that option.
School board Trustee Chuck Melki said Mainka and the teachers have worked hard to provide everyone with a choice, “rather than being a tyrant and saying, ‘this is the way we’re doing it.’”
“There are a lot of unknowns, people are fear-mongering, people are concerned,” Melki said. “Parents are paying their tax dollars and should get something for their money.”
Trustee Alicia Gardiner agreed.
“Unfortunately, these are scary times,” she said. “We haven’t made the decision for others. We’re letting them make the decision based on what’s best for themselves.”
Public reaction was largely supportive of the move.
“If it helps teachers and administrators get ready for the school year, I’m all for it,” said parent Michael Ovsenik. “I hope it doesn’t cause issues for those who have already planned for work, but we also knew this year was going to have a lot of issues going in. Hopefully, all the construction and parking lot work can be done at the elementary schools, as well.”
“The most important thing is not interrupting these kids’ learning process once they get started,” said Jamie Patterson. “If another week helps with that… great!”
Jamie Atherton, a parent and educator in a blended classroom in another district, said she knows first-hand that adapting to online curriculum “can be overwhelming.”
“To do it properly, and with the least amount of issues, you must allow teachers time to be trained and create their online classroom,” she said. “The most important thing for everyone to remember is this is new. Give grace to those learning the system, teachers and students alike. … there will definitely be bumps in the road, but 2020 has been anything but smooth.”
Others expressed concern about the continuity of learning and the impact on students if the district has to shut down classrooms due to COVID-19.