As school districts continue to adapt to school closures and refine remote learning plans, they are also starting to plan for next year.


However, with so many uncertainties revolving around the coronavirus pandemic and whether or not schools will be able to return to normal, school leaders aren’t sure what learning environments to be planning for.


For now, districts have calendars set for next year if things can return to normal — Holland Public plans to go back Aug. 26, while West Ottawa and Saugatuck are scheduled for Sept. 1, for example. But districts are preparing for the possibility the school year doesn’t return in normal fashion.


“We’re following normal procedure,” SPS Superintendent Tim Travis said of putting out a calendar. “With that said, as is the case with every district, we’re planning for all kinds of contingencies. If we’re forced to adjust, we can make the necessary changes.”


Options being discussed include continued distance learning, alternate day scheduling for students and half-day schedules to reduce the number of people gathered together.


Full-time remote learning would mean a continued lack of face-to-face interaction, which helps students and teachers build important relationships.


“I don’t think you meet the needs of kids without seeing them (face-to-face),” West Ottawa Superintendent Tom Martin said. “Kids need face time with other kids and their teachers.”


If social distancing measures are still in place, using alternating or half-day schedules bring additional complications as well in terms of things like transportation and lunch service.


“Looking at transportation options, you can’t very effectively sit six feet apart and run efficiently,” Holland Superintendent Brian Davis said. “You go from 70 kids on a bus to 20, that would significantly increase transportation costs.


“What does that mean for serving lunch? If we normally have 600 at lunch and can only do 50 at a time, that’s a lot of lunch hours.”


It would also be difficult to make sure proper distancing measures would be followed, Davis said.


“It’s difficult to ask a kindergartner to keep social distance,” he said. “It’s not realistic to ask a high school or middle school student to do it either. We don’t have the physical space and classrooms to split people up all over the district.”


Another area to address for districts is the area of a summer slide — the regression in learning that occurs over summer break. While that is a concern every year, the extra two to three months away from the classroom could expand that gap.


“We’re looking at the summer slide and what we typically lose and, now that we haven’t been in school since March 13, what that transition back to school looks like,” Davis said. “A lot of students are more vulnerable than others to summer learning loss. We have a team working on that.”


“We are having a lot of discussion on what we can do this summer to make up for loss right now, make sure it doesn’t continue to slide,” Martin said. “Is remote learning going to meet those needs? What does it look like?”


At this point, more guidance is needed for districts to effectively make decisions, Martin said. When that guidance might come is still a question, as well.


“We’re waiting on more concrete information, it’s kind of a hurry up and wait process,” Martin said. “We really need more guidance from the governor and legislature on what that looks like.


“There’s a lot of discussion going on (in the district), but nothing concrete. We’re not going to make any decision until we get the go-ahead.”


Davis said he doesn’t think things should go back to the way they were, regardless of where things stand with the coronavirus.


“There is a need for direct, physical presence. But we should look at what things can and should be done in a different methodology,” he said. “I think we’ve learned a lot in the past month about what is possible. I don’t believe we’ll be returning in August like we left, nor do we think we should.”



— Contact reporter Mitchell Boatman at mboatman@hollandsentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @SentinelMitch.