Local districts announce plans for fall

MARQUETTE — Local school districts are making plans about how they will operate this school year as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact educational decisions.

Several districts have announced their plans via Facebook.

Dan Skewis, superintendent of Negaunee Public Schools, said staff has been busy assessing the start of the 2021-22 school year, with him attending a meeting that included superintendents from districts in Marquette and Alger counties, as well as officials from the Marquette County Health Department and the Luce-Alger-Mackinac-Schoolcraft District Health Department.

During this meeting, officials reviewed the current recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, as they pertain to K-12 students and COVID-19, he said in his post.

“At the conclusion of the meeting, a majority of the districts in the two counties agreed to the same procedures based on those recommendations,” Skewis said.

As long as the current recommendations — which are based on the current level of community cases/transmission — from those agencies remain the same, Skewis said the following procedures will be in place in at NPS for the 2021-22 school year:

≤ Masks will be recommended, but will not be required. Staff will respect families’ decisions to have students either wear a mask or not, but ask that they do the same for fellow students and staff. The NPS summer school has had this recommendation in place since June 22. Some students and staff have continued to wear a mask, while others have chosen not to. The transition to this approach has been smooth and well received, he noted.

≤ NPS will not require its students or staff to be vaccinated as a condition to attend school or participate in sports or after-hours programming.

≤ If a student or staff member contracts COVID-19, NPS will require this person to abide by the direction of their physician.

Skewis said NPS will continue with its broad implementation of hand-sanitizing stations, encourage healthy habits such as washing hands and covering mouths when coughing or sneezing and offer live streams of sporting and concert events for those who are unable to attend.

In the event that school districts in Michigan are required to submit an official plan to the Michigan Department of Education prior to the beginning of the school year, NPS will make the plan available to the school community immediately after state approval, he said.

“We have made the decision that Irontown Virtual will no longer be available to our students,” Skewis said, noting that the results weren’t what the district wanted. “In addition, several services that we are able to provide can only happen in a face-to-face setting. We strongly feel in-person instruction is much more beneficial than any online program.

“We appreciate your support and cooperation as we continue to navigate through this challenging time in history. We trust that our plan implements the current professional guidance from the MDHHS and CDC and addresses concerns surrounding COVID-19. The safety of students and staff remains a top priority. We are hopeful for a great school year and we are looking forward to seeing students fill our classrooms once again.”

Bryan DeAugustine, superintendent of NICE Community Schools, posted the NICE district’s plans on Facebook.

“After meeting with the health directors of Marquette and Alger counties and our regional superintendents, I am happy to report that there will be no special pandemic restrictions for the beginning of our 2021-22 academic year,” DeAugustine said. “Our local and regional COVID numbers continue to be encouraging. We’ll keep a close eye on the situation, of course, but for now, we will resume our normal pre-COVID operations.”

Mask wearing and vaccinations will be the choice of students and their families, he said. Students and staff may continue to wear masks if they wish, but masks are not required.

“COVID-19 vaccinations are available for those who want them as authorized by health officials, but COVID vaccinations are not required for attendance at school,” DeAugustine said. “If a family is interested in acquiring vaccinations, we are happy to help. The decision is a family’s choice. There will be no required COVID testing for school attendance. We do continue to ask students and adults to stay home from school if they are feeling ill in any way and wait to return until they feel better.”

Year hopefully ‘more normal’

Brandon Bruce, superintendent of Gwinn Area Community Schools, posted on Facebook as well.

“We are excited and optimistic about starting a new school year that will hopefully look a little more normal than what we experienced this past year,” he said.

Bruce noted that GACS plans to follow certain protocols with the understanding these plans may need to be adjusted for the safety of students and staff.

The protocols include:

≤ GACS will return to a regular school calendar with in-person instruction taking place five days a week at the normal time periods. “We have made this decision as we feel face-to-face instruction is critical to academic success,” Bruce said.

≤ Facial coverings will not be required to attend GACS schools for any students or staff, and the district will respect those who choose to continue to wear facial coverings.

≤ GACS will not require students or staff to be vaccinated as a condition to attend school or participate in sports or after-school activities.

≤ As of June 22, MDHHS and the Michigan High School Athletic Association lifted all requirements for student testing in athletics. GACS will test athletes only if it becomes a requirement for student participation.

If a positive or probable COVID-19 case occurs within the classroom, the school will report it to the health department, and communicate the exposure to parents, especially close contacts, Bruce said. These actions will allow parents to monitor their students for symptoms. Any quarantine necessary will be issued by the health department.

“We will continue to emphasize hand washing and hygiene, increased cleaning and sanitizing, along with improved air quality in our facilities,” he said. “Daily home health screenings will continue to be very important. If you or your student are not feeling well, please stay home.

“We will keep you updated as we plan for the return of students to the 2021-22 school year, including building specific attendance information as it relates to COVID-19 absences.”

Ishpeming Public Schools Superintendent Carrie Meyer addressed the district’s plans in a July 14 letter to staff, students and families.

As long as the current levels of transmission and conditions in the local area remain low, she said in the letter that IPS will implement these protocols:

≤ Masks will be optional. The summer school program has not required masks, and the transition, she said, has been smooth and well received.

≤ IPS will not require students or staff to be vaccinated to attend school or participate in activities. Anyone interested in being vaccinated may contact the district for help in setting up a vaccination.

≤ Any student or staff member who tests positive will be required to quarantine. Students who are considered close contacts of an infected person will be identified and encouraged to self-monitor for symptoms, but will be permitted to attend school and activities.

Meyer said the district will continue offering hand-sanitizing stations, thoroughly clean school buildings, encourage washing hands and covering mouths when sneezing or coughing, offer live streaming of sporting events and concerts, and offer the Hematite Online Academy for students and families who prefer to continue learning remotely.

However, administrative staff encourages students to enroll for face-to-face learning, as Meyer said this method is the most effective for adequate success.

“The safety of our students and staff will continue to be our top priority,” Meyer wrote. “We are confident that we will have a successful school year, and we look forward to seeing your child in school this fall.”

Bill Saunders, superintendent of Marquette Area Public Schools, indicated in email that the district’s “back to school” committee will make recommendations to the MAPS Board of Education. The board will make a decision at its next meeting, which is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Aug. 23 at the Marquette Senior High School library.

Vaccinations urged

The Michigan Academy of Family Physicians and the Michigan Elementary & Middle School Principals Association announced they have teamed up to emphasize the urgency of getting children and teens immunized to avoid the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases in the classroom.

“Kids are exposed to thousands of antigens every day that can cause illnesses,” said Dr. Mark Hamed, president of MAFP and medical director of the departments of Emergency Medicine and Hospital Medicine at McKenzie Health System in downstate Sandusky. “Without the protection of vaccines, diseases such as measles, whooping cough and COVID-19 could easily be spread. We are urging parents to get their kids up to date on the recommended vaccines before the school year begins.”

Michigan saw an “alarming” drop in the rate of routine childhood immunizations during the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizations said. Overall, less than 70% of Michigan children have received vaccines on schedule as recommended by the CDC and the American Academy of Family Physicians, the groups said.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net


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