BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Editor
Even as Clarkston Community Schools buildings remain closed with all students adhering to distance and virtual learning until next semester, some parents think the doors should open to their students immediately.
A small group of 15-20 parents gathered outside the CCS administration building this past Monday before and during the board of education meeting to make a case for students returning to face-to-face instruction.
“This virus is not going away,” said David Meyer, father of two children in the district. “It will be here next year and 10 years from now. We cannot continue to operate from a position of fear of a virus that has a 99.98 percent survival rate. We need to put our children’s education and mental health ahead of the fear of a largely manageable virus.
“It is time to fulfill your mission. It is time to create an environment where students, staff, and families are not only safe and healthy, but also challenged, engaged, and supported. It is time to open our schools.”
“Our administration respects the rights of those who wish to demonstrate in support of in-person learning, and we share the desire to return to the classroom,” added CCS Marketing Director Mary Ellen Rowe. “In his weekly superintendent’s reports, Dr. (Shawn) Ryan has clearly and consistently communicated district goals and decisions, along with data-based rationale. It is undeniable that Clarkston has topped Oakland County in the number of cases per 10,000 residents for five consecutive weeks. This pause is needed to slow the spread of the virus in Clarkston and ease the operational challenges caused by extensive quarantining across our system. With the health and safety of our community in mind, we will continue providing high-caliber distance learning until the end of the first semester and bring students and staff back to our campuses in a thoughtful manner as soon as we possibly can.”
Ryan announced November 6 that all schools would close and would more than likely stay that way until the start of the second semester on Jan. 19. He reiterated that statement in an email to parents and at Monday’s school board meeting.
“Our school district is irrefutably intertwined with the surrounding area, and what occurs in our community will certainly find its way into our schools,” Ryan said. “Despite our strict mitigation protocols that have been vetted and approved by county health and safety experts, our system is not impenetrable under current conditions. There have been cases of probable school transmission, and it is likely that this would continue if we returned to school too soon. Virus spread rates rarely decrease as fast as they increase. Factoring in the potential for another spike during the holiday season, it may take several weeks or months before we see our numbers come down.”
Another parent, Jennifer Vogt, spoke at Monday’s meeting.
“The teachers wear masks, the students wear masks, and quarantining entire buses and entire classrooms does not make sense,” said Vogt, a nurse practitioner and mother of three in the district. “The masks help keep us safe. Just because we have a test to prove it and a name for a virus does not mean that this virus needs to dictate our lives and especially, the lives of our children.
“I cannot urge you as the superintendent and the board enough. Develop a plan where sick people stay home and quarantine and well people and asymptomatic people continue to report to school and work. This will solve the staffing shortage. Teachers are essential workers and should be treated as such.”
School board treasurer Steve Hyer commented during the meeting Monday, saying “nobody wins in this situation,” alluding to the situation where distance learning doesn’t work for all children. And with multiple staff members quarantining when school was going at the buildings, the situation became complicated.
“Virus transmission is just one piece of the puzzle,” Ryan said. “With staff quarantining in large numbers and a critical shortage of substitute teachers and support staff, we cannot physically sustain our system in this environment. There are simply not enough available staff on hand to ensure the continuity of in-person operations. Recall that at the time we made the decision to pause face-to-face instruction on November 6, we had already transitioned three of our elementary schools to distance learning as a result of staffing challenges.
“With rates even higher now the number of quarantines, which were previously unsustainable, would only be much worse. A school district can’t run without adequate staffing, particularly during a pandemic, when understaffed buildings represent broader safety and educational concerns.”
Meyer noted that he isn’t buying the staffing shortages mentioned by Ryan.
“There are many inconsistencies in (Ryan’s) policies, and these inconsistencies lead us as a community to question (Ryan’s) motivations,” said Meyer. “I have been told repeatedly that your decision is largely based on staffing issues, staffing issues created by the restrictive guidelines of the OCHD (Oakland County Health Department) and the MDHHS (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services). First, I would like to point out that these guidelines are recommendations. They are not mandates.
“We are listening to the wrong voices.”