Staffing shortage forces return to remote learning platform for all GBCS students

GRAND BLANC — It was clear, at the Tuesday, Nov. 10 meeting, that the Grand Blanc Board of Education was looking forward to the return of the district’s sixth- through eighth-grade students on Nov. 30.

“If I’ve learned anything, it’s as soon as you make a plan and have a direction, the virus says, ‘not so fast,’” said district Superintendent Clarence Garner.

Friday, just days after detailing the plan for returning to the classroom, the school board called an emergency meeting to discuss the logistic of that return, and ultimately determined that it could not occur in a safe or efficient manner.

As a result, the sixth- through eighth-graders will not be back in school until Tuesday, Jan. 26, the target date for the return of ninth- through 12th-graders. As for the pupils in kindergarten through fifth grade, their last day in school will be Tuesday, Nov. 24, and they will not go back to face-to-face learning until January, as well.

The school board’s decision came ahead of the state Department of Health and Human Services’ new emergency order halting indoor gatherings for three weeks.

The state’s order, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Sunday, includes high school classes, but not elementary or middle school classes where the statistics have shown fewer outbreaks of COVID-19.

Garner said several factors went into the school board’s decision.

“A lot of things have led to it, even beyond just what we’re seeing in Genesee County in terms of COVID-positive cases and hospitalizations,” he said.

The district has a “major staffing issue,” Garner explained.

“We have just under 200 staff and students currently in quarantine,” he said. “We’re running about 26 substitutes for our district, which leads us to have to cover classrooms with para-professionals and, sometimes, administrators.

“We’re very shorthanded. One of the major factors in making this decision was staffing issues. Even bus drivers … typically, we have 15 to 20 subs. We have three right now.”

The district also is critically short on custodians to clean and sanitize the buildings.

At present, a few Career Technical Education students continue to attend classes at Grand Blanc High School. The district also has some self-contained special education classes, and a few Project Choice classrooms from the Intermediate School District.

For now, all high school classes and sports are suspended until at least Dec. 8. Garner is still working with the health department to determine what to do with the special education classes.

So far, the parents have been understanding, Garner said.

“I received some communications over the weekend,” he said. “No one likes the inconvenience, but they appreciate the transparency of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We’d all like to be back face-to-face, but it’s not practical right now.

“The big thing now is waiting to see what happens after the three-week shutdown. It’s a wait-and-see approach. We’re hopeful the vaccine will be here sooner, rather than later, and hopefully the winter is not rough on our kids and their families in terms of the COVID-positivity rate.”

The goal is to get all of the students back to school in January, although that most likely will be in a hybrid model, Garner said.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to go back to a remote model, but we believe it’s the best case for us now,” he said.