BALDWIN -- At its meeting Monday, the Baldwin Community Schools Board of Education approved a plan to allow the first nine weeks of the school year to begin virtually.

"We want to be safe," Baldwin Superintendent Rick Heitmeyer said. "That is the biggest thing."

Heitmeyer said the decision to begin virtually primarily came from data collected from a survey sent out to BCS parents, which indicated about 72% of families would prefer to learn remotely.

"That was really the driving force," Heitmeyer said, noting that the board also looked at examples of school-related COVID-19 outbreaks around the country in order to make their decision.

While safety was a major factor in the decision-making, Heitmeyer also noted that by beginning remotely students would already be adjusted to online learning should the region shift back into phase three of reopening.

"Our students need consistency," he said. "If there's another order from the governor, then we've already started this way."

Beginning the school year Aug. 24, Heitmeyer said students will learn virtually through late October, with regular instruction from Baldwin teachers.

To help students who may not be equipped to learn virtually, the district also will be distributing Chromebooks and hotspots to allow students to participate more actively.

"This time it counts," Heitmeyer said. "There will be grading and accountability."

The board of education will reevaluate the decision once the nine weeks are finished. At this time, Heitmeyer said they will work closely with the health department and take state recommendations and guidelines into consideration to figure out whether or not to send students back to school.

"Maybe it gets extended or maybe they go back," Heitmeyer said. "When we do go back, our plan will include social distancing, masks, etc."

To view a completed return-to-school plan, individuals may visit the school district's website at baldwin.k12.mi.us.