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West Michigan districts navigate return to in-person learning at high schools

Posted at 8:01 PM, Jan 01, 2021

KENT COUNTY, Mich. — School districts in West Michigan can return to in-person learning Monday after a statewide spike in coronavirus cases forced students to go virtual.

“We have to be patient about this,” said Dr. Mike Shibler, Rockford Public Schools superintendent.

High schoolers at Rockford will return to the classroom in a hybrid model beginning January 4.

“Our teachers, our students, our parents, our community have been forming an alliance to make this work and we're going to continue to keep safety as our priority, but also teaching and learning,” said Shibler.

According to Ron Koehler, interim superintendent for Kent ISD, a quarter of its members plan to go back to some form of in-person learning at high schools next week with an additional third following the week after.

“Individual districts are making decisions based on their individual circumstances,” said Koehler.

Koehler says each district bases their decision off of the positivity rates, COVID-19 cases, and hospitalization rates in their community, as well as their ability to follow guidelines like social distancing.

Kent County is seeing a decline in those metrics compared to numbers in mid-November, which is when the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued an emergency order that prohibited in-person learning at high schools.

Koehler says new federal dollars should help districts with personal protective equipment and testing too, adding another layer to the return.

“We hope that we'll be able to do it face-to-face for the remainder of the semester,” said Koehler. “But we know that unpredictability is the one thing that we can count on in this pandemic.”

Shibler is hopeful too. He says the entire district will switch to full-time, in-person instruction if there is no significant community spread following the holidays.

“Our teachers are setting a great example on the social distancing, on mask wearing, hand sanitizers and so forth,” said Shibler. “As long as they continue to do that and our kids continue to follow it, and our parents support us at home following safety procedures protocols, we're gonna be fine.”

The Kent County Health Department still recommends students return in mid-January, but since it’s not an order, districts do not have to follow it.

Koehler also recommends families continue to check their school district’s website for the latest information.

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