BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Editor
After two weeks of all Clarkston Community Schools students and staff participating in online learning to start the 2020-21 school year, that may soon change as early as next week.
Superintendent Dr. Shawn Ryan has been keeping busy monitoring the COVID-19 situation on a daily basis and will take his findings to the Clarkston Board of Education next Monday at the next formal meeting.
“Provided we maintain our current trajectory, I am confident recommending to our Board of Education the district begins transitioning from distance learning to face-to-face instruction in October,” Ryan said. “If this recommendation is approved by the Board of Education, we would begin our transition during the week of October 5. In the weeks ahead, your principal and I will be sharing more about our face-to-face plans and protocols, which are based on our board-approved Fall 2020 Return to School Plan.
“When I made the recommendation to begin the year in a temporary distance learning format, the decision was made with the goal of returning to our school buildings as soon as it was feasible to do so. I did not set an end date for distance learning. Instead, I have evaluated on a weekly basis and implemented a tiered system for reentry.”
Since making that recommendation in early August, Ryan has followed multiple metrics in collaboration with the Oakland County Health Division epidemiologists and other Oakland County superintendents, particularly those in the north end of the county. He said he is also receiving near-daily school decision-making guidance from the state and CDC, and hearing from district teachers and parents on how things are going on the front lines.
“Last week, I met three times with Oakland County health officials and my team toured our school campus with the district’s two public health nurses,” Ryan said. “Each week, I meet with the epidemiologist to review data that pertains to our school district. With the weekly COVID-19 reports from the county, we know that our healthcare capacity and infrastructure for testing and tracing is very strong. We also learned the severity of COVID-19 in our county is low. Specifically, within our school district boundaries, we have seen the current cases per 10,000 go from 10.9 two weeks ago to 8.6 as of September 17. The data indicates that our school district is in a good place for offering the face-to-face option for our families.
“We will continue to monitor the numbers each week with the county health department. The information behind the numbers is very important. Knowing whether an increase in cases includes evidence of transmission in our schools will help us and the health department make important decisions together.”
Based on those numbers, Ryan proclaimed that the district’s tiered reentry progress has been successful, saying that the first two weeks of school yielded no new COVID-19 cases in Tier 1 programs, which include all district staff, Early Childhood Center students, students with IEPs, weekly meal distribution services, extracurricular clubs, marching band, and athletics.
“All of these Tier 1 groups are observing strict safety protocols and are being monitored for potential virus exposure and contact tracing purposes,” said Ryan. “I believe that we have a thoughtful and pragmatic approach to reentry that does not risk the safety of our educational community or impose a major disruption due to contact tracing or quarantine efforts that could shut down schools and inhibit continuity of learning.”
As was communicated in August, all Clarkston Virtual students will continue learning at home until the new semester begins on Tuesday, January 19, or until the end of the school year in June, depending on their preference.
Clarkston Virtual families who wish to return to face-to-face learning in January will need to communicate their decision in November.
“I appreciate the grace and support that all of you have shown, especially in the past two weeks,” said Ryan. “I will continue to move our district forward, making decisions that allow us to operate safely and in the best interests of our students, staff, and families.”