High school forced to return to remote learning
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 11:13am caleb
MDHHS order announced on Sunday says gatherings for education in grades 9-12 prohibited for three weeks
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
Crawford AuSable School District officials said the first two months of the district’s return to in-person learning went well, but the month of November has offered some significant challenges related to COVID-19, including a recent shutdown of Grayling Middle School and Grayling High School due to staff shortages followed by an order from the state to suspend in-person learning at all Michigan high schools for three weeks.
Justin Gluesing, Crawford AuSable School District Superintendent, said the district has had students and staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19 – more in the last couple of weeks as the number of confirmed positive cases rises in the state of Michigan – but information suggests that exposure events are happening outside of the schools.
“Most of our positive cases appear to be from an exposure incident outside our buildings. This is consistent with what we have learned from the health department. Because of the mitigation measures we have implemented in our buildings, we are better able to control the spread in school. The greatest impact on our ability to stay open is what happens outside our school buildings. Small social gatherings are impacting us the most,” Gluesing said.
The Crawford AuSable School District – in accordance with a Michigan Department of Health Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Emergency Order – is reporting “School Associated Cases” of COVID-19 on its website and informing people who may be considered “close contacts.”
“A ‘School Associated Case’ means a case of probable or confirmed COVID-19 amongst students, teachers, staff members, coaches, volunteers, or any other person who was present on school property or at a school function under circumstances that may result in the transmission or contraction of COVID-19 during their infectious period. Consistent with our Preparedness and Response Plan, families and staff were notified using our Skylert messenger system to encourage closer observation for any symptoms at home. All students or staff members who have been determined to be a ‘close contact’ will receive a personal communication with additional guidance from the health department,” according to one of the district’s School Associated Case notifications.
On Friday, November 13, the district closed Grayling High School and Grayling Middle School for one day because of staff shortages and contact tracing issues.
“We were made aware by DHD#10 of school associated cases of COVID-19 at Grayling Middle School and Grayling High School. The cases are not related. In order to provide adequate time for our district to work with the health department to conduct proper contact tracing, and because we are anticipating significant staffing shortages for Friday, we are closing our high school and middle school (on November 13),” district officials said in a message released to staff and families on Thursday, November 12.
On November 13, the district opted to continue the closure of both buildings through Wednesday, November 18.
Then, on Sunday, November 15, the Michigan Department of Health Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a new “Gatherings and Face Mask Order” that says “gatherings at public, nonpublic, and boarding schools for the purpose of conducting in-person instruction, sports, and extracurricular activities serving pupils in grades 9 through 12 are prohibited” for three weeks starting on Wednesday, November 18.
Gluesing said the Crawford AuSable School District is proceeding as planned with the elementary school staying with in-person learning and the middle school returning to in-person learning on Thursday, November 19. The high school will conduct remote learning for three weeks.
“Consistent with the order, Grayling High School will shift to distance learning for three weeks. Grayling Middle School will return to in-person learning on Thursday, November 19, as previously announced. Grayling Elementary School remains open for in-person learning,” Gluesing said. “Additional updates will follow in the days ahead. Students or families with additional questions can contact any of the buildings for more information.”
Like all districts in Michigan, the Crawford AuSable School District had to formulate and implement a Return To Learn plan for the 2020-2021 school year. The plan includes a variety of protocols, including increased sanitization, wearing of masks, screening, and limiting of gatherings.
Gluesing said the adjustments affect students and staff from the beginning of the day to the end while they’re at the school buildings.
“Day to day is not the same. Immediately things are just different,” Gluesing said.
The school system asks students and their families to monitor and self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms, and keep students at home if they’re sick. Staff members have to complete an online questionnaire every day. Visitors to the school buildings also have to answer a series of questions about possible symptoms or COVID-19 exposure and they have to take a temperature check.
Gluesing said the school buses “have seating charts so that if we have to contact trace we know where they are sitting.” Buses are equipped with hand sanitizer, and “buses are cleaned after every run,” Gluesing said. Students are required to wear face coverings on the buses.
Gluesing said the school district has “seen a drop in ridership” this year; the school district has encouraged families to drop off students if possible instead of having them ride the buses, he said.
In an effort to eliminate gatherings in the hallways before school starts, students are required to report to their first hour class upon arrival; they can get a “grab and go” breakfast on the way and eat it in the classroom.
Students have to wear masks while in the buildings except when eating meals.
“We require masks all the time,” Gluesing said.
For lunch time, Gluesing said the three buildings in the district – Grayling High School, Grayling Middle School, and Grayling Elementary School – have taken steps to decrease the number of students in the cafeterias at one time. The middle school and the elementary school are using their gyms to expand the available space for lunch.
“We’re spreading students out during lunch,” Gluesing said.
At the high school, for example, each cafeteria table has only four seats and each table has a container of hand sanitizer. Gluesing said each table is sanitized before the next group of students enters for lunch.
In the classrooms, teachers are cleaning the desktops between sessions, Gluesing said.
In the district, overall, some students opted for remote learning instead of returning to in-person sessions.
“We had about 200 students in the district go to our fully online program,” Gluesing said.
Gluesing and other school officials said students and staff seemed eager to return to in-person learning after having to conduct remote learning for months during the end of the 2019-2020 school year when the COVID-19 pandemic started in Michigan.
Gluesing said the district is committed to making safe in-person learning work, along the way asking questions like “how can we do this safely?” and “how can we do this within the confines of COVID-19?”
“What will keep our buildings open for in-person learning?” says a sign in Gluesing’s office. “In-person” is underlined.
Gluesing said in-person learning is better for students, and that is why the district continues to try to make it work.
“We are doing the harder thing right now. Being face to face is harder than remote. We’re doing the harder thing because we think it’s better. We are doing the harder thing because we think it’s best. We want the students and the staff in the building,” Gluesing said. “Every day we have the kids here is a gift. We have seen districts that have chosen not to be in-person because of the virus.”
Gluesing said one of the biggest challenges so far this school year has been “all the rule changes.”
“The ground keeps moving beneath our feet,” Gluesing said. “We’re just trying to stay on top of all the rules.”
He mentioned the change in Region 6 from Phase 5 to Phase 4, which made the regulations for schools in the region more stringent. Gluesing said “every day of school in a tremendous undertaking” that involves transportation with a fleet of buses, teaching sessions in the classrooms, and meals at the school buildings, and COVID-19 protocols add another dimension.
“All of those regular things are still going on,” Gluesing said. “It can be daunting.”
Gluesing said staff meetings are all held online through Zoom to avoid gatherings.
“Something we’ve stressed: do everything you can to not be a ‘close contact.’ That’s sort of a guiding principle for our staff: please don’t be a ‘close contact’ if you can avoid it,” Gluesing said.
“We don’t want students congregating. Same for staff,” Gluesing said.
Gluesing said the district had a shortage of substitutes – teachers, bus drivers, food service, and secretarial staff – before the COVID-19 pandemic, and staff members having to miss time due to a positive test or quarantining due to being a possible “close contact” hasn’t helped.
“The same challenges remain. You’re dealing with regular absences and absences due to the orders,” Gluesing said. “It’s definitely putting a strain on resources.”
Gluesing said the school’s ability to remain in face-to-face learning may hinge on what students and their families do outside of the school buildings.
“Our ability to stay open and in-person isn’t just what we do during the school day, it’s about everyone doing things safely when they’re away from school,” Gluesing said. “It’s going to take all of us, our families, our staff, to continue to do things safely so we can come back, be open to in-person. I encourage everyone to keep those things in mind.”
“We just want our families to know, be patient, but reach out to us when they have questions,” Gluesing said.
“We just hope that we as a community all do our part to keep our schools open. We just want everyone to be as safe as they can be. That’s our goal,” Gluesing said.