By Carol Stiffler
Governor Gretchen Whitmer made sweeping recommendations last Friday, encouraging high schools across the state to revert to remote learning for two weeks, asking that sports be put on hold for two weeks, and advising Michigan residents to order take-out rather than dine in for the next two weeks. The suggestions are aimed at curbing the recent surge in COVID cases.
In the wake of her announcement, schools and health departments assessed their individual situations, and one at a time, all local school districts decided to remain in person. Across the U.P. there are only two known schools that accepted the governor’s suggestion: Norway-Vulcan High School, and North Elementary School in Iron Mountain.
Cases at Engadine Consolidated Schools are low, said Superintendent Josh Reed, so they will remain open. Engadine did report one new student infection on Monday, April 12, but kept schools open.
Whitefish Township Schools said they’d stay open as long as they weren’t suffering an outbreak.
It’s different in Newberry, where recent infections have sent home an unknown number of students, and many more are forced home to quarantine after a COVID exposure.
Tahquamenon Area Schools Superintendent Stacy Price said the district has been in close communication with the LMAS Health District, and the health district had not asked the school to go virtual at this time.
“We do have a high number of quarantines,” Price said, “but we also have students coming back in pockets. I am a firm believer that in person learning is the best way for students to learn. As much as I can keep that going, that is what I will do.”
It’s especially critical to be in school this week, Price said. It’s testing week. Students in grades 8 and 9 are taking the PSAT 8/9, students in grade 10 are taking the PSAT, and juniors are taking the ACT WorkKeys.
“It’s not a week to be at home,” Price said, though she said the state is allowing a re-test period for students in quarantine.
Some students had only been off quarantine for a matter of days before they were newly exposed and sent back home for another round of quarantine.
“It’s bad at school right now,” said Newberry High School senior Abby Smithson. “In my first hour class, our room is right next to the high school doors. I was watching kids getting called out and told to go home. It was kid after kid.”
Smithson feels especially bad for the quarantined seniors, who are missing out on spending some of their final weeks together. Smithson said she has received her first dose of a COVID vaccine, and is getting her second dose next week. A few of her friends have gotten it as well, and are confident in their decision.
“We don’t get a normal senior year,” Smithson said. “But, we get to be the grade that went during a pandemic. We had to do everything during the pandemic. We’re going to be the only grade in history that ever gets to say that.”