Schools work out particulars of long-distance learning

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — West Michigan school districts are doing their best to hit the ground running in response to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order canceling in-person learning for the remainder of the academic year.

There are common themes across districts: implementing remote learning as quickly as possible, ensuring everyone is equipped to learn online or through paper packets and supporting seniors who are set to graduate. 

“I think one of the most important parts for our community to understand is that when you have 6,500 students and we’ve been doing it one way for decades, to rewrite the whole thing in a couple of days, we aren’t going to be able to individualize it the way we’d like to,” Zeeland Public Schools Superintendent Cal DeKuiper told News 8 Thursday. “We’re going to help them all at their own pace do what they can. Probably responding back more, not really grading, but trying to analyze what they’re doing and help them learn. We want to assure them they’ll get to the next grade level.”

The governor’s order gives districts flexibility to determine best practices for their own community. Many districts have already been working to identify who will need help with technology and internet access. 

Where devices or internet isn’t readily accessible, districts will work to provide paper learning packets for families to pick up. The food sites most districts set up for students have also helped identify that need. 

“We’ve been using our food service distribution points for Chromebook distribution and even for a community like Portage, we still have probably 800 to 1,000 families that don’t have good access to the internet, consistent bandwidth that multiple students in a family and household can take advantage of,” Portage Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bielang told News 8. “So those are going to be the challenges as we move into more of a remote learning environment, is this equity of access in our community.”


It’s no secret the abrupt end to in-person learning is devastating for the class of 2020. Several superintendents told News 8 a main priority is finding a way to still hold commencement ceremonies, even if it means pushing it by a few months.

“We’ve said even if we have to go late into the summer, we will have a graduation ceremony for our seniors.” Jenison Public Schools Superintendent Tom TenBrink told News 8. “We’re committed to doing some other special things for our seniors as soon as we’re able to because they’re missing out on things that all seniors look forward to.”

Each district asks that parents check district correspondence regularly for up-to-date information on how the executive order will impact their child’s learning moving forward. 

“I’m really asking for our community and I’m hoping communities throughout the state of Michigan to be patient with this issue,” Rockford Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Shibler said. “We’re being given days to put something together and we’re going to meet that challenge, but the bottom line is, if I had to do this in Rockford permanently as an option for parents, I would’ve started 12 months ago… We’re going to make this happen, but we definitely want our parents, our students and our staff to be patient.”