BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Editor
Clarkston Community Schools opened its buildings last month for face-to-face instruction for the first time since early March.
Not even a month later, all buildings are closed again, the result of rising COVID-19 cases in the area, and all students and staff will transition back to online/distance learning at least through the week of Thanksgiving.
Currently, schools in Oakland County are at risk level E, the highest risk level, which is defined as either more than 150 cases per million or a 20 percent positivity rate. The virus rates in the Clarkston community continue to rise exponentially, “and what we are experiencing as a district is a reflection of this,” said Superintendent Dr. Shawn Ryan.
“We have 35 active positive cases in our school district and hundreds of staff and students in quarantine,” Ryan said. “We are challenged to maintain our day-to-day building operations and have closed three elementary schools (Andersonville, Independence, North Sashabaw) due to large numbers of staff out quarantining. It has been my intention to push to stay in school as long as possible, filling the gaps wherever possible with all hands on deck and intermittently closing buildings on a temporary basis as needed.
“We now have evidence that probable school transmission (student to student, student to staff, and staff to staff) has occurred in our district over the last week. We were informed of this late Friday afternoon and were working with the Oakland County Health Department late into the evening Friday night and Saturday morning. Up until this point, we had been able to say with confidence that our mitigation measures have effectively stopped the virus from spreading at school. I cannot say that today.”
The Oakland County Health Division is recommending a pause in face-to-face instruction at least through Thanksgiving to promote the health and well-being of all students and staff within CCS.
“As your superintendent, my decisions for our district’s direction are centered on the health and well-being of our school community and providing academic continuity for all learners in Clarkston,” said Ryan. “In light of the OCHD advisory, we will take an immediate step back until these cases of school transmission have been fully investigated and our protocols have been re-evaluated. Face-to-face instruction in all buildings is paused. Barring a remarkable rebound in virus trends, it is possible that we could stay in distance learning through the end of the first semester on January 15.”
“While this transition is not what we expected, I am confident we are well-prepared to temporarily return to distance learning,” Clarkston High School Principal Gary Kaul added. “We understand how disruptive this can be for students and families, though our teaching staff is up to the task. Through training, experience, and tremendous effort, our teachers have become extremely proficient at personalizing distance learning for our students. We are very confident in our ability to provide for, and support, students during these difficult times.”
Ryan noted a recommendation for potential next steps will be made at the Nov. 23 Board of Education meeting.
“While this is all happening quickly, I am very confident our teaching staff will continue to provide excellent learning opportunities for all students,” said Clarkston Junior High School Principal Adam Kern. “I appreciate your continued support of our school and look forward to providing support in any way that I am able. Thank you for your continued patience during these unprecedented times.”
In addition, all Special Education programs and services will follow the district plan of temporary distance learning through Thanksgiving break.
Following current safety guidelines, there will be no in-person services provided at this time.
“We know this is a very difficult time for all families and shifting plans so quickly is particularly challenging,” said Kathy Christopher, executive director of Student Support Services. “We will do our best to maintain continuity of services during this period and will share updates if circumstances change.”
Curbside meal services is provided for all students at Clarkston Junior High School, Sashabaw Middle School, and Andersonville Elementary from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Wednesday where a full week’s worth of meals will be provided.
Attendance will continue to be taken daily. Early Childhood Center/Funshine will remain open. Students enrolled in Clarkston Virtual will continue with no changes.