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School district in west-central Michigan struggles to start the year

Baldwin Community Schools

A rural school district in west-central Michigan has faced an unexpected series of setbacks as it tries to start classes. Baldwin Community Schools have had to cancel almost half of their school days so far.

The district called off its first two days of school because a storm knocked out power and brought down trees across local roads.

Then, after a few days of classes, so many students were out sick with flu-like symptoms, that the district had to call off school again.

The district called a long weekend to give students time to recover, and when they came back, they were still unable to meet the state’s threshold of 75% attendance to count as a legal school day.

Now, classes are cancelled until after Labor Day.

“I’ve had 41 and a half years in my career, and this is the most unusual start to school I’ve ever had,” superintendent Mark Parsons said with a chuckle.

Remote learning isn’t an option for the district. Parsons estimates about 80% of its students don’t have reliable internet at home, and the Verizon wifi hotspots they were relying on have been recalled.

“We had to turn them in because apparently they were a fire hazard,” he said.

A Verizon spokesperson confirmed the recall and said replacement hotspots were shipped to the district this week, though the company could not predict an arrival date.

Parsons said the district is requiring masks and only has two known COVID-19 cases with about 10 people quarantining as a result of exposure.

He said the illnesses that have been keeping people home seem more akin to the flu than to COVID-19, and he’s hoping a long Labor Day weekend will give students time to recover and be back in attendance next week.

Brett has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism and before Michigan Radio, he was an intern at WNYC and with Ian Urbina of the New York Times and worked at WXXI and WCMU. He also produced freelance reporting work focused on health and science in New York City. Brett grew up in Bremerton, Washington, and holds a bachelor’s degree from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.