Parents raise concerns about Haslett schools communication on in-person learning

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Photo by Jack Harrsion

The timeline and communication by Haslett Public Schools officials offering in-person learning has caused parents to raise questions.

The district first offered in-person learning in February. A district survey with 72% participation found that 58.8% of students are enrolled in the in-person hybrid option, while the remainder are entirely virtual.

On March 12 Steven Cook, superintendent of Haslett Public Schools, announced the district will increase in-person learning to 20 hours per week by March 22. This came after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed House Bill 4048, requiring districts to offer at least 20 hours of in-person instruction to avoid additional funding loss.

With three children in the district, Doug Kelly said his fourth grader attends school four days per week from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and has class online in the afternoon. His two sixth graders have in-person class only two days a week, totaling five hours.

Kelly said the biggest challenge was the district’s differing communications about plans.

 “It was very confusing for parents and kids; the target kept moving,” Kelly said.

Kelly said the district informed parents they must commit to either the online or in-person hybrid option for the remainder of the school year. He and his wife committed to the hybrid option for their children.

“We were surprised and quite frankly disappointed to hear that they are now offering the in-person choice to those that committed to online only,” Kelly said. “Why make us choose months ago and tell us this would be permanent.”

Kelly said some parents who committed to entirely online learning now want in-person learning.

At a school board meeting on March 8, before in-person learning was announced to increase, several parents spoke in favor of more in-person learning, including Charles Taunt.

Taunt, a physician with three children in the district, had advocated for more in-person instruction since summer. Taunt said he is concerned about the mental health effects of virtual learning and the lack of non-educational services for students.

“The schools survey all these kinds of health-related things for children, as well as their mental health as well as obviously their academic development and with the kids not in school, we’re not doing that,” Taunt said. “That’s been my biggest concern all along for all the schools that are in virtual school when they could be potentially face-to-face.”

Taunt created a voluntary medical advisory council of district parents who work in different healthcare fields.

The council created proposals to encourage the district to increase in-person learning. Taunt said he facilitated 1,000 N-95 masks for teachers and organized volunteers to help take temperatures.

Taunt said he was prepared to help the Foundation for Haslett Schools raise funds, but Cook said the district received enough grants.

“Ultimately, the board and the superintendent of schools and the Haslett Educational Association, which is the teacher union, were not able to come to any kind of agreement, nor did they really want to,” Taunt said.

At the meeting, Brian Webster, who has two elementary students in the district, urged the administration and the board to increase in-person instruction hours.

Webster also questioned the time it took the district to make a schedule and asked why students cannot attend in-person class on Wednesdays. 

Kelly said the return to in-person learning took too long and the board favored those who were against in-person learning to guide their decision, rather than listening to the administration’s plans.

Kelly said the board made decisions on information from Ingham County, which is impacted by MSU and therefore does not represent the Haslett community

“I will say that now that we are in person, their protocols seem to be well thought out and working,” Kelly said.

Kelly said he hoped for more than five hours of in-person learning, implemented in February, but he understands the district’s concern for caution.

“Even after the first couple days of school, you could see their attitudes had changed, they loved being back in school, they loved seeing their friends and face-to-face contact with their teacher,” Kelly said.

Taunt said in his circle parents are enthusiastic about in-person learning and he is glad a virtual option will continue to be offered.

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