SHIAWASSEE AREA — In an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has ordered the closure of all K-12 public, private and boarding schools, effective Monday, through April 5.
The move, announced during a news conference late Thursday, came after health officials confirmed an increase in presumptive positive cases of coronavirus in Michigan, from two to 12 Thursday, with new cases emerging in Kent County, Oakland County, Washtenaw County, Ingham County, St. Clair County and Montcalm County.
Governors across the country, including Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), Andy Beshear (D-Kentucky), and Larry Hogan (R-Maryland), have taken similar steps this week to close schools and ensure the protection of children and families.
“This is a necessary step to protect our kids, our families, and our overall public health,” Whitmer said Thursday. “I am working with partners across state government to ensure educators, parents, and students have the support they need during this time, and to ensure our children who rely on school for meals have access to food. I know this will be a tough time, but we’re doing this to keep the most people we can safe. I urge everyone to make smart choices during this time and to do everything they can to protect themselves and their families.”
In Shiawassee County, the closure includes the week-long period already scheduled for spring break.
“Closing our K-12 school buildings is the responsible choice that will minimize the risk of exposure for children, educators, and families and mitigate the spread of coronavirus,” State Superintendent Michael Rice said. “The department of education will continue to work closely with our partners in state government to help our students and educators in each school district get through this time. This is about protecting the most people in Michigan.”
Prior to Whitmer’s announcement, area school districts had intended to remain open, issuing statements via social media Thursday afternoon outlining precautions being taken with regard to the virus, including the cancelation of field trips, afterschool meetings and community luncheons, among other group activities.
In addition, the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) suspended all winter tournaments indefinitely Thursday, citing concerns related to the virus.
“These are uncharted waters for everyone,” Corunna Public Schools Superintendent John Fattal said via email today. “There are lots of challenges, the biggest of which is for parents to find appropriate childcare. I believe Governor Whitmer will have further guidance in the coming days. There are other challenges as well – our administrative team has been working on this scenario for the past month or so.”
Ovid-Elsie Area Schools Superintendent Ryan Cunningham added the closure also presents a challenge in terms of instruction, as O-E currently is not in a position to conduct classes online, thus bringing the current academic calendar into question.
“There is a chance the governor could forgive these days, like she did with the weather last year, or we may have to extend our school year,” Cunningham said via email. “Educationally, extending the school year has its pros and cons because we know it is important to get that ‘seat time’ in, but when summer hits, mentally, many kids start checking out, so that would be a challenge.”
Fattal and Cunningham each indicated a decision is forthcoming about paying hourly employees during the closure.
“We are working out the logistics,” Fattal said. “We understand the importance of having a regular pay check. Right now, we are looking possibilities similar to what we did during last year’s weather state of emergency (in which we allowed employees to use accrual time if they had it).”
“My goal would be to continue to pay hourly employees to make sure that they do not get themselves in a financial crisis,” Cunningham said. “We will figure it out one way or another, whether it is through make up work or having them take on additional tasks. We don’t want to put anyone out.”
At the post-secondary level, Baker College announced Thursday that the “majority of campus-based lecture classes will be suspended and move to an online format” effective Monday, though lab courses, clinincal courses and interships/externships will conintue in their current format, according to a press release.
Numerous other Michigan colleges and universities had announced similar plans earlier this week.
Baker College — and its campus residence halls — will remain open, the release continued, maintaining normal business hours and taking “appropriate measures to protect the health and safety of the college community.”