Estimated $1 Billion Needed To Implement COVID-19 Safety Precautions At Michigan Schools

"I fear that many school districts won't be able to re-open come the fall"

WWJ News
June 20, 2020 - 11:39 am

(WWJ) Getting kids back to the normal routine of in-person school in the fall is a dream of many Michigan parents; however, the high cost of implementing COVID-19 safety precautions may stand in the way.

Mark Greathead, president of the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education and superintendent of Woodhaven-Brownstown Schools, said the estimated cost of getting schools statewide ready amid the pandemic is $1 billion.

This estimate is based off current healthcare guidelines. The “Return to Learn” plan from Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s advisory council is slated to be released on June 30 with more specific information. 

The money is expected to pay for masks, gloves, thermometers, cleaning protocols and transportation for the children; according to Greathead.

He told WWJ it is money Michigan simply does not have.

“If we don’t see some sort of additional stimulus, some sort of additional relief through Congress, I fear that many school districts won’t be able to open come the fall,” Greathead said.

He said the state is facing an estimated $700 in cuts per pupil. Estimates show a $1 billion short fall for the current academic school year, and $1.3 billion for the next year.

“I would hate us not to see the in-person education of our children simply because the money isn’t available to do it,” he said.

School districts have until the end of June to submit their budgets for the upcoming year, but they have room to make to make changes if the federal government provides additional stimulus.  

“We need that second round of stimulus to allow us to fill in some of the gaps so we can safely educate our kids,” Greathead told WWJ’s Michael Cohen.

Some of the most basic, iconic aspects of the school experience could be in jeopardy.

“If you were to expect six feet of social distancing on a school bus, that’s 12 or 13 children per school bus,” he said.

He said many districts might decide that it is simply not worth it, even though so many students depend on it to get to school.

As for the Woodhaven/Brownstown School District; Greathead said they have some funds set aside, but they “won’t last long.”

Woodhaven/Brownstown School District officials are looking at a wide range of possibilities to safely educate children.

Their proposals range from 100% in-person class to 100% online learning, and anywhere in between.

He told WWJ they are looking to maybe follow the “restaurant model” of half the students in the building at the same time while the others learn online. The students would then rotate. 

Flexibility is key, according to Greathead.

“We may have to pivot from one model to another depending on what this virus does in the near future.”

It is unclear what would happen if there is a diagnosed case at the school. He told WWJ it is possible only the classroom that housed the student or staff member with the virus will have to close down and go to remote learning for two weeks. Or, the whole school may have to shutter for a short period of time.  

Regardless, Greathead said failure to educate our kids is not an option.

“We need a plan to get our kids and our families back to a sense of normalcy they’ve come to trust.”