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GRPS plans to start the school year with distance learning, but lots of questions remain about how this will all work

July 28, 2020

With the Trump administration, primarily through Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, pushing for schools to open for the upcoming school year, the Grand Rapids Public Schools announced it will begin the 2020-2021 school year. However, the district announced that it would begin the school year online, at least for the first marking period, which goes until October 21st, based on the statement they released

While it is encouraging that the GRPS will not be putting the health and safety of students and teachers at risk for the beginning of the school year, such an announcement raises all kinds of questions. The GRPS did host a Q&A for news media on Monday as well, which you can view at this link, but that virtual Press Conference still left numerous questions unanswered. 

Some of the larger questions are:

  • How will parents and students who a subjected to poverty navigate the additional demands of children being home while they go to work. Lots of low wages jobs require employees to work on site and not from home? This includes childcare costs, healthy food for students, etc. Billionaires are profiting from the pandemic, while politicians provide grossly inadequate relief to families.
  • We know that the schools in the district that are underperforming, utilize non-union, substitute teachers. Will this continue and how will it impact the quality of education that students are receiving?
  • What criteria will the district use to determine if and when students and teachers can return to the classroom, especially since there still is no cure for COVID-19 and grossly inadequate testing available?
  • Since the district will begin with distance learning, will access be free to homes with students and will there be adequate language support for students who are not fluent in English?
  • What kinds of support systems will there be for teachers, who will now be tasked with online education, and what will the classroom sizes be?
  • Will teacher unions demonstrate their collective power during this crisis or will they go along to get along. Eric Blanc, author of Red State Revolt: The Teachers’ Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics, has an excellent article about what teachers and teacher union could do in response to schools re-opening. 
  • The GRPS has stated that the will use Seesaw and Schoology as the two online educational platforms. Both of these entities are private corporations, which means they are driven by profits. Will the GRPS actively engage in the educational content used with both of these platforms? Will teachers have any say in online content? Will the district invest in creating (with teachers) their own online content for the future.

These are just some of the important questions we should all be asking ourselves as the school year approaches, but we know that there are many, many more. With the push to “re-open the economy,” we have seen spikes in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Do we run the same risks when pushing students, parents and teachers with the re-opening of schools. How many and whose lives are expendable in the current crisis?

Important questions can be asked at the virtual town hall meeting on August 5 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m, hosted by the GRPS.

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