Flint schools go virtual indefinitely despite $114 million federal assistance, family inconvenience and student harm

(Scott McClallen | The Center Square) – Despite known harm associated with virtual school and $114 million of federal stimulus money incoming, Flint Community Schools announced last week that…

(Scott McClallen | The Center Square) – Despite known harm associated with virtual school and $114 million of federal stimulus money incoming, Flint Community Schools announced last week that it’s going virtual indefinitely.

Flint Superintendent Kevelin Jones cited high COVID-19 caseloads for the change.

“As you know, the safety and wellbeing [sic] of our scholars, families, teachers and staff remains our highest priority,” Jones wrote. “By shifting to distance learning, we are mitigating the spread of COVID-19 while continuing to provide a continuity of learning to our scholars and focusing on their academic, social and emotional growth.”

He added: “As you can imagine, the decision to move to distance learning does not come lightly, as we understand the burden that this can cause for our families. We greatly apologize for the inconvenience and truly believe that in-person learning is the best for our scholars. That said, we continue to work closely with local health officials to determine when it is safe to return to in-person learning and will keep our community updated.”

Money doesn’t appear to be the issue: The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) reserved $114 million for Flint Community Schools – or $27,416 per student – that the U.S. Department of Education expressly designated “to reopen K-12 schools safely.”

The money must be spent by September of 2023. Flint Community Schools said it didn’t know how much of the total amount it’s received so far.

Statewide assessment results for 2021 show a decline in students meeting or exceeding grade-level standards compared to 2019 after a year of virtual learning and disruptions from COVID-19.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that analyzed virtual learning found that it can harm parents’ and kids’ mental and physical health.

A McKinsey & Company report found that pandemic learning loss includes more than just academic learning.

“They are at risk of finishing school without the skills, behaviors, and mindsets to succeed in college or in the workforce,” the analysis said.

The report estimated that “[S]tudents may earn $49,000 to $61,000 less over their lifetime owing to the impact of the pandemic on their schooling. The impact on the US economy could amount to $128 billion to $188 billion every year as this cohort enters the workforce.”

Flint Community Schools are about 74% Black. About 90.5% of the 3,748 Flint students qualify for a free or reduced lunch, according to Niche.com. Public School Review estimates for the 2018-19 school year a graduation rate of 65%.

Closing in-person education during national school choice week shows the “perfect illustration” why Michigan parents want school choice, says Buddy Moorehouse, the vice president of public relations for the Michigan Association of Public School Academies.

“Charter school enrollment across the state has gone up,” Moorehouse told The Center Square in a phone interview, noting the most growth in online-only charter schools.

“A lot of parents realized if they do want their kids to do virtual learning, they want it done by people who know how to do it, and that’s the full-time online charter schools,” Moorehouse said.

Most charter schools in the Flint area have been open and in-person since January, Moorehouse said.

“If we’ve learned anything in the last two years, it’s that parents need to be able to choose the school that’s best for their child, and that’s true now more than ever,” Moorehouse said.