Schoolcraft board addresses parent concerns on instruction in pandemic

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft Board of Education fielded comments from several residents concerned about the district’s educational plans during the pandemic.

Kory Bienz said he was asked to speak for approximately 40-50 families in the community who want to go back to a fully face-to-face education model. “They want to know what the plan is,” he said at the meeting, once again held virtually via Zoom.

He said that other districts like Mendon, Colon and Constantine went back to a fully face-to-face instruction model on day one of the school year. While Bienz said he recognizes the teachers and administration have been putting in countless work hours, he also believes the hybrid model currently in place is not going to work for students in the long run. Bienz also expressed concerns about long term consequences of Schoolcraft remaining in this model.

“If all these other schools are face-to-face and Schoolcraft isn’t, there’s going to be families that leave the school district and that’s concerning, obviously, because that’s where we get most of our funding,” Bienz said.

Jen Rykse’s words echoed Bienz’s. She also expressed concerns about sending children back to school wearing masks.

“We are kind of all in agreement that our children learn best face-to-face. We want to get them back in the schools,” Rykse said. “Obviously we want to do it as safe as possible, but I know we’re one of the last districts to do it.”

Superintendent Rusty Stitt directly addressed the parent concerns during his report to the board, noting that they will be looking into it and will have a recommendation to the board by Nov. 9 about how to proceed.

“These are trying times for us all,” Stitt said. “It seems like every minute the rules change. Again, this is from Rusty Stitt’s perspective; we don’t know what executive order, if there’s an executive order, what’s local, what’s state and ongoing. So, it’s very challenging. Please note, and I know that you do, that the safety and well-being of our kids is of the utmost importance.”

Stitt said he does support getting back to face-to-face instruction as soon as possible. He also said that they are now required to report on their website the number of cases in the district. The district has had one case of the virus in a student at the middle school.

Trustee Jill Hunt also addressed some of the parental concerns at the meeting. She called for the community to be patient as the situation develops.

“Some of us are ready to have our kids back in school full-time and some of us aren’t comfortable with that, so we have to be mindful of everyone’s opinion on this virus and the fear that they have,” Hunt said. “This includes the staff and especially the teachers. Some are onboard with being in school and some are still really fearful of that, so as our community pushes our teachers, just please don’t push too hard. Because they have families too, they have situations and they feel a particular way as far as the coronavirus goes. So there’s no one size fits all on this, we’re going to try our best to do what we can to make everybody happy. But we will never make everybody happy. So, please bear with us as we go through these unprecedented times.”

Middle school Principal Dave Powers echoed Hunt’s comments about patience. He said the situation is hitting close to home at the middle school and because he has a friend whose son has contracted COVID-19 for a second time this year. Powers said previous experiences visiting with students or parents of students in hospitals and funeral homes was humbling.

“They don’t teach you about or prepare you for those kinds of scenarios as you head into leadership and into education,” Powers said. “To have to face that and what could be the potential outcome of those situations is beyond words.”

While he is hopeful for a return to normal, he said he also wants to err on the side of caution for safety of both students and staff.

“I don’t want to visit one more student in a hospital or one more funeral home in my career – which I don’t have a ton of it left, but I don’t want any more of that for anybody and their families,” Powers said.

Board President Jennifer Gottschalk also called for parents to be patient as they work through the process. She said she does not want to rush things as they follow the data and work with the health department.

“We’re going to follow the rules all the way along and we’re not going to skip steps in the process,” Gottschalk said. “Stick with us and we will get there. We’re not going to speed through this. Let’s take our time and get it right.”

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