Dear Clarkston Community Schools Families,
I hope my message today finds your family well and healthy this holiday season. It certainly feels strange to be experiencing December without the usual festivities, but a new year is around the corner and the likelihood of our return to face-to-face instruction on January 19 is very strong. Until that time, please know that our educators, administrators, and Board of Education are grateful for your partnership at home. As parents ourselves, we understand and appreciate the demands required to fill the gaps until we can be together again.
When we were forced to suspend face-to-face instruction in November, I told you that we would remain in a distance learning model through the end of the first semester and re-evaluate our ability to implement a tiered re-entry for special education, athletics, and activities. This remains our plan. Relative to our COVID-19 Decision Meter, we are centering our plans on three possible paths forward.
Three Possible Paths Forward
MOST LIKELY PATH: Virus rates continue to decline, no holiday spike in cases, and evidence of a positive trend which would allow our elementary students to return to the classroom for face-to-face instruction and secondary students in our established 6-12 hybrid learning model. We are also evaluating the potential of district-wide Distance Learning Wednesdays for all K-12 students to allow for a break from physical contact and deep clean our school buildings. Students with IEPs in Level 3-4 programs would resume in-person services and instruction one week prior to all students coming back. Athletics and activities will resume according to state guidelines.
LESS LIKELY PATH: Virus rates steadily increase necessitating continued K-12 distance learning for the foreseeable future. Some in-person activities and services may be permitted.
LEAST LIKELY PATH: Drastic decrease in virus rates for an unequivocal full return to face-to-face instruction for all students K-12, five full days a week.
Here's What's Changed Since November
A number of new factors have emerged since we transitioned to distance learning on November 6. These factors play an important role in our district's path forward.
- CDC and MDHHS have updated guidance reducing quarantine from 14 to 10 days.
Why it matters: With 14-day mass quarantines and a critical shortage of substitute teachers and support staff, we could not physically sustain our system with enough available staff on hand to ensure the continuity of in-person operations. A school district can't run without adequate staffing, particularly during a pandemic, when understaffed buildings represent broader safety and educational concerns. Reducing the quarantine period will bring staff back to work sooner, and help reduce staffing stresses. The CDC also suggested that those who test negative for the virus after seven days may be released from quarantine; however, neither the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services nor the Oakland County Health Division has adopted this guidance, as it does not require a molecular test which is the most accurate.
- State of Michigan "pause" extended.
Why it matters: Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a 12-day extension to a statewide suspension of in-person instruction at high schools through Dec. 20. Although in-person instruction is permitted statewide for grades K-8, each school district must make an appropriate decision given their local circumstances related to community virus rates and operational capacity based on quarantine volume.
- Virus cases are decreasing in our concentric rings of data.
Why it matters: The "pause" is working. We need the numbers to continue to trend downward in order to have a fighting chance at reopening schools in a face-to-face learning model and staying there.
- A COVID-19 vaccine has been released.
Why it matters: A safe, widely available vaccine will soon be deployed to Michigan to help provide immunity to the virus.
- The holiday season is underway.
Why it matters: While initial reports do not indicate a significant Thanksgiving spike in COVID cases, we aren't through the holiday season yet. Personal responsibility is key to continuing to mitigate the spread of the virus.
I am encouraged by the CDC and MDHHS's updated guidance, the trend of slightly decreasing virus cases per 10,000 in our community, and the imminence of a vaccine. Personal responsibility remains an important component of our ability to reopen our schools — now is not the time to let your guard down when it comes to social distancing, handwashing, and mask-wearing. I look forward to providing specific plans related to our path forward in my next communication on Friday, January 8.
Our entire staff can't wait to see your family back on our campuses in the new year. Until that time, we wish you good health, happiness, and hope this holiday season.
Dr. Shawn Ryan
Superintendent of Schools
About Clarkston Community Schools: Clarkston is a highly regarded school district with an enrollment of nearly 7,100 students. We have seven elementary schools (K-5), one middle school serving grades 6-7, one junior high for grades 8-9, and Clarkston High School, which serves students in grades 10-12. We also have a virtual academy, an Early Childhood Center serving children ages 3-5, and an alternative high school/community education facility. Clarkston Community Schools students are well-prepared for a future that excites them, and believe that they can achieve their dreams. The mission of Clarkston Community Schools is to create a learning environment where students, staff, and families are challenged, healthy, engaged, safe, and supported.
Read more Clarkston Community Schools News at www.clarkston.k12.mi.us/news.
Media Contact: Mary Ellen Rowe, Marketing Director (248) 623-5460.