Mask mandate to continue, spectator restriction to be lifted and more announced at Jan. 27 KPS School Board meeting


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Loy Norrix Freshman Emerson Edwards addresses the KPS Board of Education at the Jan. 27 meeting.

Elliot Russell, Editor-in-Chief

On Thursday, Jan. 27, the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Education held their bi-weekly meeting at the district office on Howard St. The Board members, accompanied by superintendent Dr. Rita Raichoudhuri, unveiled plans for the remainder of this year and the beginning of the next.

To begin, Raichoudhuri confirmed the assumption that masks would continue to be required at KPS schools through the end of the third trimester. This comes as the number of Omicron variant cases is on the decline after a difficult month for the district: the number of total student and teacher cases in KPS has nearly doubled since the new year began.

Last month as students returned from winter break and COVID cases were on the incline, Raichoudhuri issued a letter to KPS families announcing that for the month of January, sports would be spectatorless and all events of over 100 attendees would be canceled. 

Raichoudhuri followed this up at the board meeting by lifting the ban for the month of February, giving way to postponed events such as the Loy Norrix musical, “Something Rotten,” now opening Friday, Feb. 4 and the National Honor Society induction ceremony, tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 15. 

Additionally, crowds will once again be allowed at winter sports events.

Credit: Public Media Network

Also discussed was the effort to install air purifiers in school cafeterias which has been underway since October. This past week, nine elementary schools in the district have been outfitted with a number of HEPA-equipped air purifiers according to the size of their cafeteria. This marks only the first of many phases in this process, with plans to provide the same for middle and high schools on the horizon.

“The second phase of delivery and installation will occur as soon as the additional 54 units are received and may include additional units at the elementary schools shown,” Raichoudhuri said.

Regarding next school year, the groundwork is already being laid. 

Raichoudhuri recommended the integration of some new classes into the curriculum, namely teaching-based classes. These courses will be called “Future Proud Michigan Educators,” with the first two segments available for students to take in middle school and the third segment in high school. Intended to segway into the Teacher Academy Career and Technical Education course, there will soon be a comprehensive path for prospective teachers to take.

Accompanied later in the evening by a presentation from assistant superintendent Jim English on the rapidly declining number of Michigan youth in teacher-prep programs, these new courses are an effort to turn the numbers around and prepare more young people for a future career in education. According to English, the number of people enrolled in these programs is down 71% from 2006 to 2019, the situation in Michigan more dire than any other state in the nation.

“I can get on my soapbox, I would love to for about a half hour and tell you why it’s got a lot to do with not investing in education for the last generation with all the budget cuts and not keeping up with funding—funding hasn’t kept up with inflation,” English said. “Young people see that and they’re encouraged to not go into the profession, all kinds of reasons, but we’re leading the way in this teacher shortage issue and we’ve gotta think about things differently and as a state. We’re going to have to be on the leading edge of solving this because of where the data’s at.”

 Another addition is a two-trimester geology course for high schoolers which, in association with Grand Valley State University, will allow students to earn college credits to be accepted by a number of Michigan colleges.

Families are sick and dying because they are getting COVID from school, and I just ask the board to feel the anguish and the sorrow that we as a community felt,”

— LN freshman Emerson Edwards

As per usual, community members were given the opportunity to speak to the board for an allotted three-minute period. This time around, discussion primarily surrounded the district’s handling of the outbreak of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Loy Norrix freshman Emerson Edwards criticized the school board members’ lack of acknowledgement of recent student deaths from COVID as well as the administrators’ resistance to students walking out of Norrix and Kalamazoo Central on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“Families are sick and dying because they are getting COVID from school, and I just ask the board to feel the anguish and the sorrow that we as a community felt,” Edwards said.

Board Trustee TiAnna Harrison responded to the complaints of Edwards and others who accused the board of not taking enough action to circumvent the pandemic.

“I wanted to go on record to let the community know that contrary to whatever misconception that you may have had, there were members on this board—I can’t speak for anybody, but just speaking for myself—that did not know that a student had passed,” Harrison clarified. “The fallacy of thinking that we are a cold, callous group of people that are not paying attention to the traumatic effects that children in the community are facing is not the truth.”

The next KPS Board of Education meeting takes place on Feb. 10. You can attend in person at the KPS district office at 1220 Howard St. or watch it streamed live by Public Media Network.