By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
With COVID-19 cases spiking in the community like never before, Oxford Community Schools has switched back to fully remote learning, at least through the Thanksgiving break.
The decision came late in the day Friday, Nov. 13, just two days ahead of a statewide health order for all in-person high schools to close for three weeks.
“As the day has progressed, we have been notified of increased cases and the need for students to quarantine,” wrote Superintendent Tim Throne in a districtwide email. “We currently have over 20 active coronavirus cases in the district. While that number is not incredibly high, given our overall population, it is growing at an alarming rate. This data, coupled with an elevated number of quarantined staff and students across all levels, is prohibiting us from being operationally effective.”
The plan is a last-minute modification of what was supposed to be a temporary shift to remote learning from Thursday, November 19 through Monday, November 30. “While we had put together what we thought was a good plan heading into Thanksgiving, we are calling an audible and will now plan to go into our remote learning plan starting Monday, November 16, through the Thanksgiving break, district-wide.”
Assuming it is safe and operationally possible, the plan is to return with a 50/50 hybrid schedule from Tuesday, December 1 through Friday, December 4.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) emergency order will keep the high school closed until at least Wednesday, Dec. 9. The order states, “Gatherings at public, nonpublic, and boarding schools for the purpose of conducting in-person instruction, sports, and extracurricular activities serving pupils in grades 9 through 12 are prohibited, except for in-person instruction of pupils who are English Language Learners or participants in special education services.”
Throne said, “It is important to note that our safety protocols in all our buildings have effectively allowed us to not only return to school but stay in school. What we are seeing is rapid community spread over which we have little control. We acknowledge everyone’s hard work and commitment to staying open. However, we can no longer do so from an operational perspective. Said another way, it has taken all of us to make this work; students, employees, and our parents/community. If any one group does not stay vigilant, we simply won’t be able to return to in-person learning.”
Beyond just the positive cases, the sheer number of exposed staff and students that must quarantine is extremely disruptive. “We have had to quarantine students and staff and not allow them to participate in important events because it just so happened that they came in close contact with someone who tested positive, through no fault of their own,” Throne explained in a Nov. 11 district communication.
“Our families have been exceedingly understanding about keeping students home in quarantine; and, some students have experienced multiple 14-day interruptions to their physical attendance. We have had students and staff members quarantine for close contacts in their personal lives, as well. Additionally, we are preparing to implement new Oakland County Health Division guidance that will likely result in operational difficulties and increased time out of school for not only symptomatic students/staff but also any household members of a symptomatic person.”
In addition to the number of active positive cases, since Nov. 6 the school district also began reporting the number of quarantined students. As of Nov. 13, there were six active student cases at the high school, while 93 additional students (six percent of the student population) were quarantined due to potential exposure to a school-related case. District-wide there are 20 active student cases and 162 students in quarantine. There are also seven active staff cases, and six additional staff members in quarantine. Quarantined staff and student data does not include those individuals exposed to cases outside school environments.