Saugatuck schools prepare for in-person return

DOUGLAS, Mich. (WOOD) — Students at Saugatuck Public Schools are preparing to return to the classroom for in-person learning.

School superintendent Tim Travis says teachers, administrators and several superintendents from neighboring districts have been formulating safe back-to-school plans since schools closed in March due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“The whole situation has been challenging. I think all educational professionals, including superintendents, are being stretched right now,” Travis said. 

Travis says after monitoring the low number of cases and infection rates in Allegan County for several months, the district decided to open for in-person instruction. 

The district says about 20% of their students opted for online learning this fall. The other 80% decided to be in the classroom. 

“We’re going to use a lot of common areas, large group instruction areas when classes have too many students for the classroom,” Travis said as he described the plan. 

Schools will be using several common spaces, like cafeterias and libraries, as classrooms to allow more room for students to social distance. They have also opened partitions that once split spaces to allow more opportunity for social distancing. 

Saugatuck Public Schools is using nontraditional spaces as classrooms upon reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Aug. 26, 2020)

The district says students will eat lunch in their classrooms. Areas of the playground will no longer be shared by multiple classrooms and students will be assigned one area to play in per day.

Students will also be required to travel in one direction down hallways and wear masks. Any student who does not have a mask will be provided one.

Students will arrive and depart the school building at staggered times and have assigned doors. 

Administrators say the idea is to keep each child with the same 10 to 12 students for the entirety of the day.

Douglas Elementary School prepares to welcome students back for in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Aug. 26, 2020)

“When it came back time to go to school, I was so torn because we got out of school with so many less cases, so you wonder how is it safe to go back now?” said parent Birdie Holly. 

Holly says she has two students at Douglas Elementary School and one student who will attend Saugatuck Middle School this fall. She says balancing three students’ workloads while working from home was extremely challenging.

“It was hard when they were unable to understand something and I didn’t know how to put it in a way that they could understand,” Holly said. “I’m not an educator. Although things were laid out really well for me, it was very difficult especially with three kids of three different ages and both mom and dad working.”

Holly says while she had some reservations about potential spread of the COVID-19, she’s putting her three students back in the classroom this year.

“I think every family has unique needs and unique wants. I respect all the choices whether people have chosen to home school, remote learn or be in school. For my family I think it’s great for their socialization. It’s great for their learning and their development,” Holly said. 

Administrators say while it is likely that there will be some COVID-19 cases in the community, they believe their plan will protect students. 

“Should we have larger community spread once school starts, a breakout of several cases in any particular building, we’re prepared to make good decisions and switch over to remote learning before we have a huge outbreak,” Travis said. 

“We’re all in this together. You hear that in different places. I truly believe that in this community. The health and safety and education of this communities’ children is of utmost importance to everyone,” he added.

Travis says they are still working to finalize their 100% virtual curriculum and hiring a few more staff members. The district’s school year starts Sept. 8.