by Harold C. Ford
“We do not know what’s going to happen after April 16. The flattening of this (coronavirus) curve is not supposed to happen until the week of April 23. We are going to be in uncharted territory. I don’t believe we’re going to be back in school this year.” Derrick Lopez, superintendent, Flint Community Schools, March 25, 2020
Derrick Lopez, Flint Community Schools’ (FCS) superintendent, proved prophetic when he predicted at a “Zoom” remote board meeting March 25 that Michigan’s students would not “be back in school this year.” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-35 April 2 closing school buildings for the rest of the school year.
Whitmer’s order requires public school districts and public school academies to develop a plan of instruction to be approved by regional intermediate school districts and authorizers respectively. The plans must “provide opportunities for students to learn remotely.”
The district has tackled the crisis on two fronts: attempting to sustain food distribution for its students and arranging for remote learning.
Food distribution: District serving 8,000 meals/day, sites added
Whitmer’s executive order also suggested that school districts “should” continue to provide meals during the COVID-19 crisis.
As part of its March 23 response to the state-mandated closure of schools, FCS announced an ambitious plan of food distribution, initially at 24 sites. According to the FCS website, breakfast and lunch food distribution occurs daily from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the following seven sites, all Flint addresses:
- Northwestern – G2138 W. Carpenter Rd., 48505
- Brownell/Holmes – 6602 Oxley Dr., 48504
- Berston Field House – 3300 Saginaw St., 48505
- Potter – 2500 N. Averill, 48506
- Durant-Tuuri-Mott – 1518 W. Third Ave., 48504
- Freeman – 4001 Ogema, 48507
- Southwestern – 1420 W. Twelfth St., 48507
The number of sites for food distribution was scaled down due to the absence of food service workers who were concerned for their health. “The governor basically said that they should shelter in place at home,” Lopez explained.
“There’s nothing in their contract that requires them to do this, deliver meals on wheels,” said Lopez. “They agreed to do it voluntarily (as paid volunteers). They (Sodexo Magic) put this plan together because we asked them to.”
Michael Williams, Sodexo Magic food service director and general manager, told ABC12 that his crew of 70 people typically serves 4-5,000 meals a day. With half the staff, about 35 persons, he’s now serving some 8,000 meals a day at designated sites during the pandemic crisis.
But now demand has resulted in the addition of five more food distribution sites, reported at the March 25 meeting. They include the following, all Flint addresses:
- Evergreen Regency TownHomes – 3102 Fox Circle, 48507 (just south of Lippincott Blvd., between Center Rd. and Dort Hwy.)
- Ridgecrest Village Townhouses – 1069 Ridgecrest Dr., 48505 (south side of Carpenter Rd., east of Dort Hwy.)
- Howard Estates Apartments – 1928 Howard Ave., 48503 (south of Lapeer Rd., near intersection of Lapeer Rd. and E. 12th)
- Stonegate Manor Co-op – 3506 Stonegate Dr., 48507 (north side of Atherton Road, between Dort Hwy. and S. Center Rd.)
- Summerfield Community School – 1360 Milbourne Ave., 48504 (near corner of Chevrolet Ave. and Mackin Rd.)
“It’s tiring, but it’s amazing just to get that gratification of seeing everyone’s faces and thanks to get the meals,” Williams said.
FCS plan for remote learning:
FCS had already launched a plan March 23 for remote learning that used the internet for some and learning packets for others. The FCS plan included the following:
- Learning packets for K-10 students “with supplemental online resources available”;
- Google Chromebooks with “access to standards-based, credit bearing courses through Edgenuity”;
- Learning packets for special needs students that include “specific learning targets that are in alignment with a student’s individual IEP (Individualized Learning Plan).
Learning packet distribution comes up short:
FCS educators and administrators have been scrambling to create and distribute learning packets for students in grades K though 10. “We do have about 40 percent of students who got them,” Lopez reported at the March 25 Flint Board of Education meeting, “and 60 percent who did not.”
FCS board members and administrators discussed a variety of ways to distribute the remaining packets including marshaling volunteers from local churches and handing them out at food distribution sites. FCS decision-makers have come upon a scheduled 16-day break, the March 30-April 10 intersession (counting weekends), in which to figure out the logistics of packet deliveries.
Larger implications: remote instruction an imperfect process
A staggering 90 percent of students in the world are out of school due to the pandemic according to UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) and reporting by Anya Kamenetz, National Public Radio education correspondent. Educational systems all over the globe are scrambling to find effective alternatives to brick and mortar, face-to-face instruction.
For starters, “three million children in the United States do not have access to the internet,” reported Sen. Kamala Harris on the April 1 edition of CNN Tonight with Don Lemon.
“Both faculty and students must quickly learn new software or technologies as they switch from face-to-face to online teaching and learning, and must work out the inevitable glitches that occur in using new software or technology,” Charles Thomas, University of Michigan-Flint faculty member in the Sociology/Anthropology/Criminal Justice Department, told East Village Magazine (EVM).
“These experiences, of course, can be frustrating, stressful, and time-consuming—even more so for any faculty member who has never done any online teaching,” Thomas added.
“A big challenge students will face in transitioning to online is discipline,” said Lorretta Davis, an online instructor for Western Governors University, in an interview with EVM. “The discipline to put in consistent study time and the discipline to engage in the reading assignments and understand what they have read.”
“Since both faculty and students are no longer in school, and must stay mostly at home,” Thomas added, “for some it can be quite challenging to set aside time to get their academic work done, and/or to find the space and quiet environment required to work efficiently.”
“Students that were vulnerable before—lower-income students, perhaps discriminated-against minorities—may also take a bigger hit academically,” the NPR reporter Kamenetz said. “So, we could expect to see a spike in the high school dropout rate as well as a fall in enrollments in college.”
“You can also look at places like my hometown, New Orleans, which, after Katrina, most schools closed down for the entire fall term in 2005,” she said. “So a semester was lost, and it took years to make it up.”
COVID-19 Marshall Plan
Amber Arellano, executive director of the Education Trust-Midwest, proposed an educational Marshall Plan in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Providing students with ample time to recover from that (corona learning loss) is as critical as giving coronavirus patients the opportunity to heal,” Arellano wrote in a recent op-ed. “Future academic outcomes, and even lifetime job earnings, are at stake for millions of students.”
“While we don’t know when life will return to normal, we know Michigan students will be academically behind;” Arellano continued, “it’s just a question of how much. Even before the current crisis, 54.9% of Michigan third graders were not reading at grade level, and 64.3% of seventh graders were below grade level in math.”
“A Marshall Plan for education’s COVID-19 response is needed, with significant investment at local, state, and federal levels,” Arellano asserted.
Staff attrition continues
Cassandra Washington, FCS executive director of human resources, reported to the FCS board that another six educators departed Flint schools in February—one death, two retirements, three resignations—taking with them nearly 82 years of experience.
In fourteen months, 90 educators have departed Flint Community Schools taking with them 1,171 years of experience.
EVM Education Beat reporter Harold C. Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.