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In Ypsilanti, one bus driver’s COVID case closes school for 2,000 students

empty classroom
Even as vaccinations rise, COVID is spreading in Michigan schools. (Shutterstock)

Ypsilanti Community Schools students can’t catch a break.

Students in grades 6-12 were off a week before the district’s spring break in late March because of rising COVID-19 cases and quarantines. After spring break, the schools were closed for another two weeks to follow the statewide in-person learning pause recommended by Gov Gretchen Whitmer.

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After four weeks, students were scheduled to finally return to classrooms four days a week this coming Monday. But on Friday afternoon, Superintendent Alena Zachery-Ross postponed school reopening of the district’s middle and high schools until May 10.

Ypsilanti Superintendent Alena Zachery-Ross
Alena Zachery-Ross, superintendent of Ypsilanti Community Schools, says Black superintendent candidates “seldom make it past the first round” with local school boards. (Courtesy photo)

The reason this time: 15 bus drivers had dinner together recently, and one subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus. Now, all are in quarantine until May 6, leaving the district with no way to get students to classrooms.

Some preschool bus monitors were also at the dinner and are now quarantined, forcing the district’s preschool program to shut down, too, because of lack of transportation.

The closures will affect about 2,000 students in the district east of Ann Arbor.

“The health of our students and staff comes first,” said Zachery-Ross, who acknowledged the non-stop whack-a-mole of on-again, off-again closures has taken a toll on her, staff, students and the community.

“We’re going to get to June (the end of the school year with in-person instruction) somehow,” Zachery-Ross said with a resigned laugh, “but I don’t know how.”

Superintendents are often caught in a no-win situation, facing increased pressure from parents to keep classrooms open while struggling to keep coronavirus cases under control among students and staff.

Although cases have slowed in recent days, Michigan is still amid its third COVID spike and currently has the highest infection and hospitalization rates in the nation. 

School outbreaks have risen with overall cases in the state, with 293 new and ongoing outbreaks tied to schools in the week ending April 15. And while 97 percent of traditional public school districts offered at least an option for in-person learning by March 1, some districts have struggled to stay open.

Many school districts in the state switched to fully remote learning for a week or two around their spring break to try to stem the tide. Some are now returning to classrooms, while others are extending online learning, even though an estimated 80 percent of teachers have had at least one dose of their two-shot vaccination regimen.

Lansing Community Schools had pushed back classroom reopenings several times because of high infection rates in Ingham County, and on Wednesday threw in the towel, telling families it would continue virtual learning for all students for the remainder of the school year. 

Ann Arbor Public Schools are currently scheduled to return some middle and high school students to classrooms several days a week May 3.

Grand Rapids Public Schools had hoped to expand hybrid learning to more high school students (currently 43 percent are fully virtual) to meet requests from parents, but decided Friday that it couldn’t do that without violating social-distancing recommendations.

“While we know this decision may be frustrating for some, since the beginning of the pandemic, we have clearly and consistently shared that our decisions would be based on the science, data, and guidance from the Kent County Health Department,” Grand Rapids Superintendent Leadriane Roby wrote to families.

In Ypsilanti, Superintendent Zachery-Ross said she hopes to get middle and high school students back at desks May 10, but the pandemic has taught her not to make promises.

“It’s been a crazy year,” she said.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 6:30 p.m. April 23 to note that preschool bus monitors were exposed to COVID-19 and quarantined, forcing the district's pre-K program to switch to remote learning until May 10 because of lack of transportation for the students. An earlier version of this story didn't clarity the types of preschool staffers who had been exposed.

 

 

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