With additional health orders in place and pandemic case numbers continuing to spread, Three Rivers Community Schools (TRCS) announced on Wednesday evening that it plans to close additional school buildings later this week. On Sunday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a new order that required high schools around the state to close. TRCS subsequently closed the middle and high schools to in-person instruction on Monday, taking all classes to a virtual setting. Elementary schools will now also be subject to closure.
In a letter to parents Wednesday, TRCS Superintendent Ron Moag said a staff member at Norton Elementary School tested positive for COVID-19. Due to medical privacy laws, Moag said TRCS cannot release the names of infected persons. However, he said, “through the contact tracing process associated with this case, we have identified a significant number of staff members and students that will be required to quarantine.”
The spread of the virus has made it increasingly difficult to staff in-person elementary school programs, Moag said. Thus, he said, “with community spread of COVID-19 and staffing factors at all of our elementary school buildings in mind, we have made the difficult decision to suspend in-person learning and transition ALL elementary students and staff to our remote learning plan.”
Next Monday, November 23, all elementary students who are currently attending school face to face will begin remote, online learning. In the meantime, Moag said, there will be no school for students at Norton Elementary this Thursday and Friday, November 19 and 20. Students at the other three elementary schools, Andrews, Hoppin, and Park, will still report to school for in-person attendance on Thursday, but for those students, there will also be no school on Friday as teachers, staff, and administrators plan their transitions.
Since the HHS order lasts through December 8, Moag said, school buildings will remain closed for the duration. He said, “it is our intention to resume in-person learning on December 9.” However, HHS may extend its closure order if COVID-19 daily new case counts remain high, and TRHS will also monitor numbers locally and among its staff and student populations to determine the status of the spread. Thus, Moag said the closure could last longer if the data or HHS “indicates additional time is needed.”
Moag said parents “will receive specific information regarding your particular school building from your student’s principal and teachers. They will be working to ensure all students have the resources they need to make this transition. We will have limited staff in each building to deal with issues and questions that arise during this time. Please watch your email closely for additional information and instructions on the transition, and how your student will be able to access food service and other important supports.”
Moag said TRCS continues to “work closely with the Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency on school-associated cases of COVID-19. Anyone identified as a close contact of this positive case will be notified by Three Rivers Community Schools staff as a part of the COVID-19 investigation process.”
In concluding his letter Wednesday, Moag said, “thank you for your continued support during these challenging times.”
Dave Vago is a writer and columnist for Watershed Voice. A Philadelphia native with roots in Three Rivers, Vago is a planning consultant to history and community development organizations and is the former Executive Director of the Three Rivers DDA/Main Street program.