"We have to find the money": Michigan schools prepare to reopen safely

NOW: “We have to find the money“: Michigan schools prepare to reopen safely

EDWARDSBURG, Mich. - This week ABC57’s in-depth education series “The Learning Curve” continues with a closer look at how kids are going back to school in Michigan. Michigan school’s start over the next two weeks and have different guidelines compared to Indiana schools.

Teachers and administration at Edwardsburg Public Schools are preparing to reopen Sept. 8th and it has been a long journey to get where they are. 

"They need to be here in person, we need to see them, we need to meet them and we have so many procedures put in place, you know, to keep the germs away and to keep the kids healthy," Rachel Pobuda, an Edwardsburg Schools 4th grade teacher said.

It's one week before school starts.

"We're starting in person we have, but we also are virtual, because we know there are families and students who are a little concerned about coming back together and face to face," Jim Knoll, the Edwardsburg Public Schools Superintendent said.

Knoll has been in education for almost 30 years and this nothing he's seen before. 

He said the decision to go back in-person next week was a hard one but that he knows it's what's best for the kids.

“Well, our governor right now has us in phase four. And for phase four, we can come back face to face. And for us, it was overwhelming from our community that they wanted to come back face to face. And there are a lot of reasons right? The big the biggest one is the best thing for kids," Knoll said. "But it's also for the parents to get back to work. They have to have them here. So their big concerns were just outbreaks, right? They were concerned that we would come back to school and there might be a bunch of students getting ill, and we're hoping that doesn't happen.”

Concerns are still out there for many.

“We have a little bit of a concern, you know because people are just scared right now. And we're trying to alleviate some of that frightening feeling that you have when you're getting together by making sure that we follow that road roadmap really clear closely, making sure everybody's going to follow the protocols where your masks, make sure everything's clean, use hand sanitizer. We're going through that whole process. I think we'll be okay," he said.

"This year, we're just thinking more on you know, the idea of health and making sure that when the students come in, we're teaching them good healthy habits, hand washing, you know, kleenex is and where the trashes are, and just kind of keeping that in mind, but also just keeping the children's best interests," Pobuda said.

Pobuda has taught fourth grade for 6 years at Edwardsburg Schools.

"Teaching is kind of one of those things where every year is a little bit different. So this is just kind of something new and different," she said. “So it's just one of those things that you take with a grain of salt and you know, do your best and keep everybody healthy.”

Pobuda is also a parent and has three kids in the school district. She said she understands the concerns.

“I know even my second grader, you know, we talk about it, like we go to the grocery store and why it's important and, you know, they understand they, you know, they want to stay healthy and everything too, and they get used to it," she said.

It's all up to school staff to make sure they are prepared for kids to come back into the classroom.

"So now as we're prepping and planning, we're thinking about, okay, well, we're in the classroom right now, what's best for students? And how can I take that, you know, to the next level, if we do end up going virtual, making sure that they're prepared here. So, you know, if things were to go home, they would know what they need to do," she said.

"We have about 160 students that are planning on doing the virtual programming versus the face to face program," Carrie McGuire, the Director of Instructional Services and Accountability said. “I would say the biggest struggle with having to go remote in the spring is making sure that the students come back and we get them back on track for where they should be in their learning progress throughout this class, the school year.”

There is about 2,500 students opted in to do in-person and when a survey was sent out 70% of responses favored in-person learning as well.

"If we can get the students back here safely and involved in face to face daily learning, then we know that that's what's best," she said.

Of course, getting students back is no small feat and costs a pretty penny.

"Well, certainly our budget has changed significantly because the additional expenditures that we're incurring, in order to prepare for COVID and make sure that we're staying safe. You know, we have additional expenditures and transportation for the sanitation before and after every route. Installing hand sanitizers in each school bus is on the operation side. Of course, we've hired additional staff in order to make sure that we have our cleaning schedule," Anne Flautt, the Chief Financial Officer for the school district said.

The money - racking up.

"You know, that it's really difficult to quantify because it seems every day we have new expenditures that we hadn't really thought of. I would say it's well over $100,000 at this point in expenditures that we've incurred, but that's just a rough estimate, that number will go up," she said.

But Flautt said it's going to a worthy cause.

"Our facilities, the use of our facilities, and the way we've laid them out had been redesigned, as well as we are acquiring and renting a number of large tents outside so that students can go outside with your teachers to take a breath, perhaps if they can socially distance get those masks off for a while, receive their instruction outside with the fresh air.”

That's something our team hasn't seen at any other school.

“I think certainly, any of us get uncomfortable after wearing these masks for eight hours, and if they can have a respite, even for a short bit of time for a half-hour or so, to be able to get outside, get some fresh air, have the mask off, it brings a sense of normalcy back," she said.

The decision to reopen to in-person learning has hidden costs but Flautt said it's unavoidable.

“Well, it's one of those costs where we, it's a cost that we're going to do because it's right for the students. It's right for the parents and it's right for the educational environment that we're in right now," she said. "It's not a matter of whether or not we're going to find the money, we have to find the money to make sure that we've got the best offering for those for those students.”

Our team is dedicated to going to several different school districts in our coverage area - including many more Michigan schools.

If you want to see your school highlighted or even if you have some questions regarding the school reopening process, email us at learningcurve@abc57.Com

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