More W MI schools pushed into virtual learning amid coronavirus surge


GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — As coronavirus cases surge in West Michigan, Grandville Public Schools is taking its middle and high school students out of the classroom and Wyoming Public Schools is moving to a virtual format for all students.

Grandville Middle and High School and all Wyoming public students will move virtual starting Friday and continuing at least until Nov. 30.

Grandville had been running in person for 12 weeks, but in Superintendent Roger Bearup cited a 13.4% positive test rate in the region and staffing challenges linked to the number of people in isolation or quarantine as the reason for deciding to go virtual.

“The time to act at the middle school and high school buildings is now,” he wrote in a Thursday letter to parents, going on to note that the virtual format may continue after the end of November based on guidance from the health department.

Wyoming said it has seen more than 20 new COVID-19 cases within the district, which is increasing the number of people who need to quarantine due to exposure, also leading to staffing problems.

“While this temporary shift to remote learning may present challenges to students, staff, and families, my hope is that we are able to return to safe, in-person learning as soon as possible,” Wyoming Public Schools Superintendent Craig Hoekstra said. “It is important for us to work together, whether in school or in the community, to protect ourselves and others from becoming ill.”

More and more West Michigan schools have been going virtual in recent weeks, including Ravenna Middle and High Schools starting Thursday and Grand Haven High School and Lakeshore Middle School starting Friday. Detroit Public Schools announced Thursday it was also shifting to a virtual format.

Several schools that have moved to a virtual format have referenced staffing problems.

“Most of what we’re experiencing is coming externally. It’s not being transmitted within the schools,” Godwin Heights Superintendent Bill Fetterhoff said.

Godwin Heights made the decision to go virtual this week. Fetterhoff says the issue wasn’t a spike in cases amongst students and staff but rather increasing challenges finding replacement staff for those in quarantine. He said most of the exposures leading to the required quarantines are happening outside of the school buildings.

“It’s pretty difficult for us to staff under normal circumstances with just absences of staff,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to get substitute teachers into the buildings. We’ve been severely impacted with our custodial staff, which during a pandemic makes it very unsafe.”

Holland Public Schools Superintendent Brian Davis said he is currently faced with making the same decision as positivity rates skyrocket in Ottawa County. 

“It’s very alarming. That communicates one of two things to me: It’s not just that more people are being tested; the positivity rate has increased substantially. It’s my wonder if we have lessened our approach to this,” Davis said, pointing to pandemic fatigue throughout the community. 

Holland Public Schools is still offering in-person learning. On Wednesday, Davis sent a letter to parents warning them of a potential shift to remote learning if community spread continues. 

“Safety is a number one priority for me and if we find that it’s not safe for our students and staff, we begin to see higher rates of our students and staff impacted, we see transmission between the schools, then we will definitely go to a remote setting,” Davis said.

Davis said he hopes state legislators will begin passing some laws that allow more flexibility when it comes to substitute teaching requirements. He said there are people with experience available to aid with the substitute teacher shortage but they do not meet legal requirements. 

Grand Rapids Public Schools has been virtual all semester and won’t consider in-person learning again until after the new year. Kalamazoo Public Schools intends to continue virtual learning at least until March.

All of Michigan is seeing coronavirus surge, with more than 6,900 new confirmed cases announced Thursday alone. Districts say it will be critical in the coming weeks for communities to work together to slow the spread of the virus to keep kids in school. 

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