Byron Center Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Macina said the district is opting to begin school Aug. 31 with a hybrid plan combining in-person with virtual learning, with hopes to shift to fully in person, five days a week Sept. 28. A survey given by the district in July showed 88 percent of parents in the more than 4,200-student district would opt for in person for their child or children.
The hybrid model– with half of students in the building at a time, each two days a week and alternate Fridays — will allow staff and students to learn safety measures and procedures before heading back full time. Students who opt to learn remotely will enroll in BC Virtual– the district’s online program to be taught by district teacher– and are asked to commit for a semester.
“I feel good about what Byron Center is doing and obviously there’s a lot of uncertainty. We’ve been using the word unprecedented. We’ve done this plan in partnership with staff and the community and Board of Ed,” Macina said. “The plan allows us to slowly phase into in person, but if we have to go remote we will do that.”
He said he’s relied heavily on the Michigan Safe Schools: Return to School Roadmap,The Kent County Health Department and feedback from coalitions of staff members, administrators, parents and Board of Education members, as well as discussions with fellow superintendents.
“The hybrid model allows us to get all the required parts of the Roadmap in place for safety and hit well over 98 percent of strongly recommended parts,” Macina said.
Beginning with a reduced number of students in the buildings will help ensure safety measures are known and being followed correctly. “What it allows us to do over the first four weeks is make sure we have all our procedures in place, that we can keep up with cleaning and monitor all safety procedures,” Macina said.
When all students return, however, Macina said keeping students six feet apart won’t always be possible. “We know that we are going to do the best we can with social distancing. It won’t be perfect.”
Cohorting students by classroom– where they are with only their classmates all day– in kindergarten through grade six– will help limit contact, he said, but seventh-through-12th grade students will still move through their scheduled classes, following safety guidelines.
If all students do have to return to virtual learning, he said Byron Center is well-equipped. Just 3 percent of families don’t have Internet access and all students have district provided devices. The district has provided one-to-one devices for several years and recently began allowing all students, including elementary students, to bring them home.
Macina said despite its immense challenges, he believes the pandemic has forced some positive changes that will last post-pandemic
“One thing that’s a positive is the modes of teaching we will be able to use,” he said. “This enhances how we are using technology for kids who aren’t in school. If a student is out of school we now have more tools to help them out remotely.”