Local schools have no plans to shut down in-person learning or athletic activity after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the state health department requested schools do so last week.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) joined Whitmer for a press conference Friday in which Whitmer requested that schools in the state temporarily cease in-person learning and sports activity in response to Michigan’s recent rise in coronavirus cases. Since the beginning of March, case counts have been on the rise in the state, and the test positivity rate has skied above 15 percent, despite the state’s steady pace of vaccinating residents.
However, although Whitmer requested the move, among several others (like closing restaurants to in-person dining), she did not mandate it, asking for voluntary cooperation.
At the state level, the MHSAA largely punted on the request. Communications director Geoff Kimmerly released a statement saying the MHSAA’s next tournament events are not until mid-May, so the issue of whether to pause action is up to the schools.
All five local county schools appear to be moving forward as planned, though. Pentwater went on a one-week pause of in-person learning and athletics in the middle of last week, though that decision predated Whitmer’s request.
Hart and Walkerville school districts issued public statements declaring their intention to continue with in-person learning and athletics, and Hesperia athletic director Jeff Knapp confirmed to the OHJ this week that the school will also continue. Pentwater and Shelby did not respond to requests for comment, but also appear to be continuing as scheduled.
Hart superintendent Mark Platt cited several factors in the school’s decision to continue as scheduled, including that Hart had an earlier spring break than the most populous school districts in the state and was therefore already back in session by the time Whitmer’s request was made public; that the school’s staff has had the chance to be vaccinated; and that their data suggest that virtual learning is not as effective as in-person learning.
As far as sports go, Platt said, spring sports is the safest season in terms of COVID-19 transmission, as girls soccer is the only sport that is classified as higher than low-risk.
“The sports schedule has changed many times this year, and in the spring it always changes the most, so this is normal for us,” Platt said. “Usually it is due to the weather, and there might be games that get rescheduled due to COVID-related issues, but that is something every school and athletic director, and coach knows how to navigate.”
Walkerville superintendent Thomas Langdon’s statement largely concurred with Platt’s, and he added that in a time where there is so much to fear, his fear of what taking in-person instruction away from students again would do to them outweighed any other consideration.