To open or not to open: School districts grapple with decisions amid Covid surge


LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — School leaders are making tough decisions on how to keep students and teachers safe during Covid.

Last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer urged districts to go virtual for two weeks, but stopped short of making it an order. All over the state, superintendents have wrestled with what decision to make and it’s led to districts that are separated by just a few miles making opposite decisions.

As the evidence shows, there’s no one-size fits all solution.

There’s 12 school districts in Ingham County and while all operate separately, they reached a consensus to go back to virtual learning for this week. But in Jackson County it was far from unanimous.

Seven districts are still meeting in person, six have gone back virtual and one has its high school virtual but elementary school in person. The latter is Michigan Center — a district that says it takes each decision one day at a time.

“It’s one of those where we continue to analyze the information in front of us and make the decision based on what’s best for our kids and balance that with safety,” said Michigan Center Schools Superintendent Brady Cook.

Other schools like Ionia say they made the choice to stay in person because the state’s SAT testing is set for Tuesday. However, Michigan Center had a plan B.

“If we’ve learned nothing else in the last year, it’s to be adaptive,” Cook said. “We did have a make up date in place for the 26th, so rather than complicate things, we just moved our entire secondary testing schedule to the 26th.”

As for Western High School in Parma, the decision to stay open was an easy one.

“We’ve taken a pretty strong position that we’re going to leave the doors open,” said Western Schools Superintendent Mike Smajda. “Our kids needed us here, our parents want us here…well over 70% of our staff is vaccinated and we believe that by giving the parents the choice, that’s really what the governor did and kudos to her.

“She’s allowing local school districts local control, we’re allowing parents personal choice. If you feel school is not the safest place for your child you have the option to stay virtual, however if you feel comfortable sending your child to school, our teachers are here and our busses are running.”

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