Schools React to Governor’s Suggestion for Voluntary Closing
The governor’s news briefing Friday morning puts schools in a difficult spot.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer says she is encouraging schools to move to remote learning for two weeks and for schools to delay sports, but that the move will be voluntary. Then; the “recommendation” to do so from Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. But that recommendation is not a mandate from the state.
That leaves it to schools to make the call – or the local health departments. Kingsley Superintendent Keith Smith says, “It would be surprising to see the health department come out and supersede what the Governor said. You’d think they’d be pretty aligned. But the health department has pretty specific information to their locations.”
There is a lot of room for interpretation in the latest update from the state. “It’s a little disheartening that the Governor comes out and suggests it, but then doesn’t have the teeth- if that’s really the direction they want schools to do, they need to come out and say that.”
It’s mixed messaging for the Glen Lake Superintendent too. Jon Hoover says, “When the Governor is saying we’re asking you to voluntarily pause activities, then Dr. Khaldun comes on from Health and Human Services and says by the way we’d like to “recommend” you do this, one says please consider, the other might say please ‘do.’ That’s where it really falls back to us to stay close to our local health department.”
This week schools in Grand Traverse County have been closed to in-person learning for Middle and High School Students. Smith says, “As it turned out it was quite a mixed blessing that the health department directed to shut us down.”
Kingsley says this week they found four positive student cases and one teacher also tested positive. “We still test athletes before they have practice. And we did have four positive cases amongst our student body. And we had one teacher test positive and one teacher in quarantine.”
“The nice part about being on pause this week is only the affected individuals are quarantined. Had those kids been in school on Tuesday that would have wiped out 50-100 more students,” Smith says. And closing was a decision that paid off. “Truly for us it was the right call at the time. You never know, when you’re making a call like this. You do get judged in hindsight, was it the right call or was it the wrong call? As we sit here today I can say closing for this week was absolutely the right call for us.”
Smith says districts should be able to make decisions on a case by case basis. “In my heart I think we’re going to be back open on Monday. I would be surprised if we weren’t open.” He acknowledges the surge and the high case numbers in the county, but says those numbers aren’t reflected in his school population. “I think we acknowledge Traverse City has a bit of an issue in terms of more cases than that. But in terms of the surrounding area itself, it certainly is less. The difference between Traverse City and Kingsley – though we’re in the same county we’re certainly very different… what they’re dealing with in Traverse City is different than what we’re dealing with down here.”
But for the weeks ahead? Smith says he’s prepared to open the doors. “Based off the information I have today, I would be fully supportive of bringing the kids back into the district on Monday.”
The Glen Lake Superintendent agrees. “We will bringing our students and staff from high school back for in person on Monday the 12th.” And Hoover says they’ll continue to rely on the local health department for the best information. “They have determined that unless there’s a major outbreak in a school district, being able to have our students return on Monday is something they would support.”
Smith says it’s always a tough decision. “You’ve got well-intended people making the best decisions they can for their community. The decisions I make for Kingsley might not be the same as Charlevoix, East Jordan, or Cheboygan or Manistee.”
Superintendents in Grand Traverse County met with the Health Department late Friday. Smith says there was no new directive for next week, and it’s being left up to individual districts. Superintendents will be meeting with the Health Department again on Sunday, and there could be another announcement for next week at that time.