Alumna helps craft Michigan K-12 fall return-to-learn framework

Contact: Joy Brown
Angela Blood Starr, Calhoun Intermediate School Distract's regional school health coordinator, sits with her laptop in a room full of guitars.

Angela Blood Starr, a Calhoun Intermediate School District regional school health coordinator and Western Michigan University alumna.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.A high school physical education teacher whose passion for helping others and inculcating lifelong healthy habits inspired Angela Blood Starr to become an educator herself. The skills the Western Michigan University alumna learned back then—particularly goal setting, decision-making, positive self-talk, and social and emotional learning—are still practices daily and were relied upon during her recent Michigan Return to School Advisory Council service.  

As Calhoun Intermediate School District’s regional school health coordinator overseeing five counties and as president-elect of the Michigan School Health Coordinators’ Association, Blood Starr provided essential expertise that assisted the advisory council with addressing some of the largest challenges confronting K-12 school districts due to a logistical landscape transformed by COVID-19.

Should teachers be required to wear face masks? Should students return to a regular learning schedule? What about riding the bus? Districts are required to create their own health and safety plans in accordance with state and federal mandates and recommendations meant to prevent disease spread. The advisory council’s guidelines detailed in the Michigan Safe Schools Roadmap offers a basic outline for a safe return.

According to the state of Michigan’s website, “The safety protocols detailed in the MI Safe Schools Roadmap includes guidance on the use of PPE, good hygiene, cleaning/disinfecting, spacing in classrooms, screening for symptoms, athletics and more. The roadmap also recognizes the impact COVID-19 has had on students’ and educators’ mental health and offers guidance on how schools can address this issue.”

Following a tumultuous spring that forced educators to suddenly pivot from in-class instruction to distance learning when the pandemic reached the U.S. in March,  Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s goal is to return students to classrooms, if possible.

“Nothing can replace the value of face-to-face instruction,” Whitmer told WWMT News 3 in mid June.

Prior to the roadmap’s release on June 30, Blood Starr said she thinks one of the biggest hurdles facing school districts will be continuing to provide equitable education.

“Speaking from my perspective, I believe one of the most daunting challenges will be accommodating the diverse needs of all our schools, children and educators across the state. Michigan is a very diverse state and it is important to be mindful of all students’ and educators’ needs when providing recommendations for how to safely and equitably return to school,” Blood Starr says.

She is also concerned about the pandemic’s impact on students’ and educators’ wellness and health.

“We need to recognize that we have all been through a crisis and ensure that 'postvention' crisis strategies are being implemented when we return to school,” she says. “It is important to recognize where we have been both socially and emotionally in order for us to more effectively begin the healing process moving forward. As we approach school this fall, we must remember to validate and normalize emotions while providing a safe and supportive environment that promotes learning.” 

Blood Starr emphasizes that importance of maintaining physical, mental and spiritual health. She encourages schools to embrace the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child framework, which suggests connecting with a variety of resources to help students succeed.

Blood Starr, however, is confident that the Return to School Advisory Council’s guidance will offer valuable help to struggling districts whose success will also depend on their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

“I believe that the group of selected folks on the council is committed to ensuring that the transition back to school will provide safe, equitable and efficient recommendations for schools,” says Blood Starr. 

As of early July, the advisory council was recommending health and safety protocols designed for normal school schedule return, including regular busing. But districts may choose to adopt plans that are more restrictive.

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