Education Beat: Flint students to return to school buildings March 15 and March 22; decision prompts tension among board members | #Education

By Harold C. Ford

 

“Parents are upset because we keep changing the date for school.”
–Diana Wright, trustee, Flint Board of Education, March 10, 2021

The board of education of Flint Community Schools (FCS) approved an administrative plan for returning students to school buildings on a hybrid basis beginning March 15 with K-3 students. 

All LSS (Learning Support Services) and ECDD (Early Childhood Development Delay) students—“our most vulnerable students” according to Kevelin Jones, FCS assistant superintendent—also will be eligible to return on March 15. 

Kevelin Jones, FCS assistant superintendent. (Photo source FCS website)

Students in grades 4-12 will return one week later on March 22.  

Students with last names that start with letters A-L are to report to school for face-to-face learning on Mondays and Tuesdays. Students with last names that start with letters M-Z are to report to the buildings on Thursdays and Fridays.  

There will be no face-to-face instruction on Wednesdays as the buildings will be closed for cleaning and sanitizing. 

Students are to report for remote/online instruction during the days they are not in the buildings. Distance learning is still an option for any students that choose not to return to the buildings.  

Pierce Elementary School (Photo by Tom Travis)

A poll of FCS families reported by Anita Steward, FCS superintendent, in January indicated that 58.9 percent favored continuing with remote/online instruction while 41.1 percent of FCS families favored a return to face-to-face instruction. 

The plan to return to schools was approved by the FCS board on two 5-1 votes of its members on March 10, the first vote at a “committee of the whole” meeting, the second at a special meeting of the panel. 

A public statement by Steward about reopening schools can be found at the end of this article.  

Board members report on building tours

Several board members had recently toured FCS buildings to survey first-hand the preparations for reopening. They inspected personal protective equipment (PPE) and engaged staff and administration about readiness to reopen. Board president Carol McIntosh and Joyce Ellis-McNeal reported that they had visited nearly every building in the district. 

“The teachers are definitely ready to receive the students,” McIntosh said.  “I think we’ll do well in opening up.” 

“I would be comfortable with the children going back to schools,” added McNeal. “We have way enough of everything to do what we have to do.”

FCS Board member Adrian Walker (Photo source the Chamber of Commerce)

Adrian Walker, board trustee, reported that he had toured every school and talked to several teachers and administrators. “It seemed that the overall theme is that they were ready for the kids to come back into the schools.” 

Trustee Diana Wright said she has visited one school and talked to two staff members. “The only concern I’ve heard is, parents are upset because we keep changing the date for school…They want to go to school.” 

MacIntyre dissent

Despite their reports of readiness for reopening, Laura MacIntyre, board treasurer, heaped scathing criticism on the decision of her colleagues, as in the following comments:

  • “I think this is the most ill-advised decision the board has ever made…This is insanity to me.”
  • “This just isn’t good science…It just seems we’re playing a very dangerous game with persons’ lives.” 
  • “This culture of intimidation and administrative violence has got to stop.”
  • “I’m getting a little bit tired of this bantering about with language…I dislike this playing around with language.”
  • “I just don’t feel that we’re being straightforward…I would like some semblance of honesty.” 

Board members respond

Some board members responded to the comments of MacIntyre, who’s frequently found herself on the short end of 5-1 and 6-1 votes by the panel:  

Flint Community School Board member Joyce Ellis-McNeal. (Photo provided by Elis-McNeal.)

  • McNeal: “I have never been so insulted in a public meeting…I would like to be respected…We need to just stop condemning.” 
  • Wright: “I am just sort of fed up (with) vilifying another board member’s difference of opinion…I don’t think it’s fair that any one person should constantly berate the rest of us because we don’t agree with their opinion. We all have a right to our opinion.” 

Newly elected Flint Community School Board member, Laura MacIntyre. (Photo provided by Laura MacIntyre)

The discussion devolved into a confrontation between MacIntyre and Wright. Some excerpts:

  • MacIntyre: “People need to be able to speak truth to power.”
  • Wright: “I’m not going to be bullied by anyone…” 
  • MacIntyre: “Knock it off! I have the floor.”
  • Wright: “The point of order is that I’m being interrupted and Ms. MacIntyre has no right to interrupt me.” 

McIntosh twice tried to quash the skirmishes, shouting, “Order! Order! All right! All right!” and “Hey, hey, hey! Everybody out of order!”

Before adjourning, McIntosh issued a call for unity: ‘We have to work together. We have to do it for our district. Let’s try to move forward.” 

“Stop bickering”

In an emailed comment to the board, Lynn Hurand, whose family has deep roots in the Flint community, admonished the board to “stop bickering.”  

Further, Hurand advised the board to, “Sell the (Central/Whittier) buildings and let’s move on before they are beyond repair…Flint Board of Education members should be thrilled that there is interest by the Harvard Group to purchase (the buildings) for development…” 

Timeline for EDEP likely changed

Perhaps lost in the tension generated by heated discussion about reopening schools was a report by Ayunna Dompreh, FCS executive director of finance, that the Michigan Department of Treasury seems to have changed the timeline of the state-imposed Emergency Deficit Elimination Program (EDEP). FCS is still operating with an annual deficit, a violation of state law.  

Ayunna Dompreh, FCS executive director of finance

“They have moved our timeline,” reported Dompreh. 

An annual audit presented to the FCS board in Nov. 2020 by representatives from Plante Moran found “significant financial challenges stemming from loss of students, ongoing cash flow shortages, and debt obligations.”  

More aid on the way:

With President Joe Biden signing a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill into law on March 11, prospects for help to the school district look promising.

“Local school districts in Michigan are expected to receive about $3.5 billion,” according to a report by the Detroit Free Press. “That funding is expected to be used to help schools safely reopen or address lost learning and the needs of the most vulnerable students. Flint schools stand to get $120 million.”  

A recording of the March 10 FCS Board of Education meeting can be accessed at You Tube.

The next meeting of the FCS board is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. March 17. The public can attend the meetings virtually by registering at the district’s website.  

Questions and/or comments for FCS officials can be submitted to the following internet address: fboe@flintschools.org.  Also, the email addresses of various FCS officials can also be found at the district’s website.

Statement by FCS Superintendent Anita Steward

March 10, 2021 

 Dear Families–  

 I am proud to inform you that the Flint Community Schools district is now offering an in-person learning option for families who have elected to participate. It will include two days of in-person learning per week.  

 Beginning Monday, March 15, we will offer the option of in-person learning for our LSS scholars, ECDD scholars and scholars in Pre-K through third grade. Scholars in fourth grade through 12th grade will have the option of returning to in-person learning beginning Monday, March 22.  

FCS Superintendent Anita Steward. (Photo from FCS website)

Wednesdays will be a distance learning day for all scholars as we prepare for the next group of scholars. Thus, scholars will be required to connect online, screen to screen, in order to have their attendance counted. Welcoming our scholars back in two phases allows our district to transition smoothly while prioritizing the safety of our scholars and staff.  

If you have elected the hybrid option, your child’s school will be sending a letter to you outlining your child’s weekly schedule. We appreciate our parents and families, who have been incredibly patient and understanding as we continue to put the safety of our school community first. If you have any questions, please contact your child’s principal.  

As a reminder, the district’s Safe Return and Recovery Plan can be found on the district’s website (www.FlintSchools.org). It is one of the rotating banners on the home page. We will soon have an FAQ document on the website as well.  

We continue to be Flint Focused, putting the safety of our scholars and staff first. Thank you for partnering with us on your child’s education.

Your Partner in Education,

Mrs. Anita J. Steward

EVM Education Beat reporter Harold Ford can be reached at hcford1185@gmail.com.




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