Thursday, November 5, 2020

Schools coping with spike in infections

School administrators from throughout the area are awaiting the impact of the latest spike in COVID-19 cases on educational procedures.

While the more stringent guidelines issued by the Wayne County Health Department last week have not changed the rules for in-person or distance learning offered by the schools, Northville Public Schools Superintendent Mary Kay Gallagher wrote to parents last week, advising them of the quarantine of 75 district students following homecoming parties and other off-campus social events and, in one case, a party bus. The Northville schools also faced a shortage of bus drivers at least one day last week due to required quarantine after exposure to the virus.

Seven people at Canton High Schools previously tested positive for the virus and Plymouth Christian Academy in Canton Township reported “several” positive cases.

Van Buren Public Schools Superintendent Pete Kudlak  told the members of the board of education last week that three people in the school system have tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, he said, 42 students had been quarantined since school began in September.

Those quarantined may have had close contact with those who tested positive for the virus, he said.

During the regular meeting, the board members reconfirmed the COVID-19 Learning Plan which details the manner of instruction for each grade. Every district must evaluate and confirm the plan every 30 days as required by the Michigan State Department of Education. 

The health department rules issued Oct. 26 allow in-person instruction to proceed with strict mitigation measures in place. Health officials further note that if the community spread risk continues at the current level, the Wayne County Public Health Division could ill issue stricter guidelines. The Plymouth Canton Community Schools district has seen a total of 51 cases of COVID since remote classes began this fall. The district began the year at 100 percent virtual learning for middle and high school students and will review the plan, as required, this month. Last week, the members of the board of education unanimously approved a resolution for secondary students in grades 6-12 to continue receiving instruction in a fully virtual model through the end of the first semester on Jan. 22. The resolution also specified that opportunities for in-person support will be provided for students with academic and social-emotional needs, including specialized classes, throughout the remainder of the first semester.

Superintendent of Plymouth Canton Community Schools Monica Merritt urged strict safety precautions.

“We encourage all members of our school community to adhere to recommended health and safety practices for mitigating the spread of COVID-19. This includes wearing a face covering or mask when in close proximity with others, practicing frequent hand washing, allowing for physical distancing whenever possible, and staying home when sick and watching for potential symptoms of illness before going to school each day. We know it's hard, but when possible, stay away from gatherings and other indoor activities that increase the spread of COVID-19,” she said.

Superintendent of Romulus Community Schools Dr. Benjamin P. Edmonson also urged safety precautions but noted that his district is at 100 percent virtual classes. He said he fully understands what an inconvenience that is for many families, but that the safety of the students and the staff have to be a priority.

“I certainly don't like it,” he said, “because I don't consider myself a virtual superintendent,” noting that he enjoys personal interaction with both the students and the staff members.  

He said that the virtual learning would continue until the end of the semester in January.

In the Wayne Westland schools, online learning will continue until at least Jan. 20. 

Superintendent of Schools John Dignan said the format would continue while the COVID-19 cases are increasing. The district had planned to bring students back next week, but that will not happen with the new restrictions. Dignan said that the current situation does offer some stability to students and families who have established new routines. Dignan noted that the district is also concerned and paying attention to the mental health of students as the online learning continues. He said the current situation is far from perfect but does keep staff and students healthy. 

When in-person classes resume, Dignan said, parents and students will have an option to continue the all-online classes.

In Northville, where the students have been placed in quarantine, Gallagher said that up to this latest spike throughout the state, feedback has been favorable “with students, staff, and families demonstrating tremendous flexibility and adapting very quickly to following the health and safety protocols we have in place at school.”

In a letter to parents regarding the situation, Gallagher said,  “We do not, thus far, have any evidence of positive cases of COVID-19 tracing back to exposure at school or during school hours, and the number of students quarantined as a result of close contacts at school has been minimal up to this point.”

She noted that health officials will be monitoring the risk of spread throughout the community to ensure the safety of in person learning.