SCOTTVILLE — Mason County Central is making adjustments in light of Sunday’s MDHHS mandate to halt in-person instruction for high-school students due to statewide COVID-19 increases.
Superintendent Jeff Mount said he feels confident that the district is well-prepared for the transition, which must be in effect no later than Wednesday.
During Monday’s board of education meeting, he updated the board on the status of the district in the wake of the new order.
Face-to-face instruction for pre-K through eighth-grade students will continue for the time being for students who were not already committed to remote-learning for the trimester.
The high school will pivot to exclusively using MCC’s Spartan Connected remote-learning format starting Wednesday. Teachers and support staff members have been working on implementing that transition now.
“We’ll be one-to-one, so all the kids have access to a computer, access to the internet… We’re putting those plans together as we speak, so come Wednesday we’ll be able to hit the ground running,” Mount said.
Jeff Tuka, high-school principal, also commended the district’s preparation, but said there have been some communication gaps that will need to be addressed, as well as logistical challenges regarding the transition occurring during a trimester change.
“We’ve been preparing for this. From a district level, I think we’ve always had a good plan. Where it becomes stressful is that the timing isn’t good. We’re going to be going remote just as we’re changing classes and teachers,” Tuka said. “We worked really hard on this (Monday) during professional development… and we do have the students in attendance (Tuesday) to get this all worked out.”
Principals from the middle school, the Upper Elementary and Scottville Elementary stated that students are gaining confidence with remote learning in the event that face-to-face instruction in the lower grade levels is also deemed unsafe.
Mount said the district supports the mandate, but he told the Daily News that the impact of COVID-19 on the high school has been virtually non-existent, noting that the cases thus far have been in other grade levels.
“It’s understandable why the position was taken by the health department across the state,” he said. “We here at MCC had actually no cases at the high school… and we’ve really been quite healthy at the high school.”
He also said the announcement of the stricter restrictions came at a fortuitous time for MCC, since teachers had already committed to a professional development day on Monday. It provided a chance to give the transition additional attention.
“We are prepared,” Mount said. “We are ready for whatever this darn thing brings us.”
Also on Sunday, MCC received word that one of its transportation department employees had tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in 10 students being quarantined, according to Mount.
The positive case was announced through MCC’s COVID-19 dashboard.
In a statement Monday on the school’s website, Mount wrote that the MCC is working closely with District Health Department No. 10 to identify close contacts. He said anyone identified as a close contact will be contacted by the health department, and asked that students and parents answer the phone if they receive a call from (231) 757-3711.
Mount said the school district has enough bus drivers to fill the gap, though the need for additional bus drivers remains.
Sunday’s announcement marked MCC’s fifth school-associated COVID-19 case since the start of the year, but Mount said none of those cases have spread.
“To date, we have had five total cases at Mason County Central dating back to Sept. 14… But we’re not seeing transmission within the school system. These are coming from the outside,” Mount said.
Of the most recent positive case, he said, “We’re OK. It was a small impact, but still an impact.”
The board received word that trustee Jeff Barnett is resigning from his seat, leaving the district with 30 days to appoint a replacement.
Also on Monday, the board entered closed session to consider the reinstatement of an expelled student, and to discuss a collective bargaining agreement with the Mason County Central Education Association.
The City of Ludington announced Monday afternoon that its city buildings, including the municipal building and senior center, will be closed starting at 8 a.m., Wednesday, Nov. 18 and will not reopen until 8 a.m., Monday, Dec. 7.
The reopening could be delayed further if the recent emergency orders by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services are adjusted, the city noted in a press release. The decision was based on not only the emergency order, but also conversations with local health officials and local public safety officials.
“We have not had any further cases (of COVID-19) than what we went through a couple of weeks ago,” said Ludington City Manager Mitch Foster. “It’s basically on the emergency orders. We’re just trying to look out for the safety of the general public and also our staff. If we would have members of our staff (become infected), it would be a huge hit to our staff operations.”
Business with the city can be conducted via the mail, phone, the city’s night drop-box or online at the city’s website, www.ludington.mi.us. The dropbox, the city stated, will be processed continually. Foster said the coming days and weeks are big for the city because of the winter tax bill coming due.
“Normally, it would be big because of tax season. Now with the lobby closed, we will accept tax bills via the drop box. If we were to get a quarter of our taxpayers, that would be a significant amount of foot traffic into the building,” Foster said.
Staff will be available via phone at the city, the police department and the department of public works. Copies of bills and invoices can be mailed or emailed if needed by calling 231-845-6237.
Foster said the city’s staff would mostly be working in-person, except for some situations where employees could work remotely. He said the past experiences of the spring and summer have been helpful for the city.
“If we had to do fully remote or a platoon system, we could do that,” Foster said. “At this point, our goal is to keep staff working at the office except for a few that will be working remotely.”
Four public meetings were moved from in-person to being conducted via the video-conference application, Zoom: the Cemetery, Parks and Recreation meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 17, the Finance and Personnel meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 18, the Public Safety/Public Utilities meeting on Thursday, Nov. 19, and the planning commission on Wednesday, Dec. 2.
The city stated it would post login information for the meetings on its website.
The city also is halting all in-person activities scheduled for the Ludington Senior Center. The center will be posting information on its website for virtual fitness classes and other offerings. Ludington Senior Center Executive Director Vickie Collins said staff there will be available via the phone, including assisting those who are registering with Medicare Part D. Footcare will be continued via appointment, paralegal assistance will be over the phone and the medical equipment loan closet is available, too, Collins said.
“Even though our doors will be locked staff is here and able to assist. Appointments for any of our services must be accessed by phone,” she said.
When the senior center was closed previously, many activities were conducted via Zoom and Facebook, and those will again happen, Collins said. Yoga, Tai Chi, stretch and balance exercise classes will all go online, and she urges those who are interested to call the center so they can add them to the invitation list for those sessions.
“We are creating other virtual activities,” Collins said. “These steps are put into place to keep our seniors and community safe.”
Foster reiterated to the public that it should consider patronizing the local businesses in the city, whether it is through takeout food at the restaurants and bars or purchasing items from the retail businesses in the city and greater community.
MANISTEE — The Manistee Police Department announced Monday afternoon the identities of the two individuals that were recovered Thursday from the Manistee River channel, including a 38-year-old Ludington man.
Ryan David Jensen, 38, of Ludington, was identified as the man who was in a vehicle that went into the channel near the 300 block of River Street in a press release from Manistee Police Chief Joshua Glass.
Jensen was with Charla Kay Bishop, 50, of Manistee, in the vehicle that was recovered Thursday, Nov. 12.
The incident is still under investigation. Anyone with information may contact Det. Sgt. Kirsten Goodspeed at 231-398-3281.
The Manistee Police Department along with officials and divers from several agencies went into the channel last Thursday afternoon after receiving a report of a white SUV going into the water. A dive team was able to recover both Jensen and Bishop.
The Ludington Area Schools Board of Education listened as Superintendent Jason Kennedy talked about the district’s plan for its pre-K through eighth grade instruction learning plan at Monday’s regular meeting following Sunday’s order written by the State Health Department to stop in-person classes for high schools and colleges.
The order, which goes into effect on Wednesday, will last for at least three weeks and leaves the district to decide what will happen with instruction for grades pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, according to Kennedy.
The district is currently learning remotely and have been for the past two weeks.
Kennedy told the board the district is in a state of change referring to what the state of pre-K through eighth grade instruction looks like.
“We know that ninth through 12th grade instruction has been paused for three weeks,” he said. “That did not apply specifically to pre-K-8 instruction, and right now, the feeling around the West Shore Educational Service District is that in the short term we will try to return to in-person instruction at those grade levels.”
Kennedy told the board the district still has a lot of work that needs to be done with the health department and West Shore ESD.
“There are a lot of shared services that the ESD provides across multiple schools, multiple districts and multiple classrooms, so we continue to meet to work through pre-K through eighth grade instruction and what that will look like,” Kennedy said.
He said by Thursday or Friday the district will have completed a review with the health department and West Shore ESD to be able to make a decision.
Pre-kindergarten through middle school did plan to return to in-person instruction on Monday, Nov. 23, before the order from state health department.
Also on Monday the board approved the 2019-20 financial accounts audit performed by auditors from Hungerford Nichols. The audit report shows that there are no findings. The district received the highest level of assurance, or opinion, provided by the firm.
The board approved permanent highway easement with two property owners who live at the corner of Bryant Road and Jebavy Drive. The easement was required to install the traffic signal at this intersection as part of the elementary school bond project.
Mason County Eastern will be switching its high school, grades 9 through 12, to remote learning on Wednesday as mandated by the state and has decided to keep pre-kindergarten through eighth grade in-person until Thanksgiving.
Moving certain groups to remote learning fits the school’s plan that was put in place before the year began Superintendent Paul Shoup reported to the MCE Board of Education at its regular meeting Monday evening.
As the cases started to rise in the county, and through weekly meetings with the health department, the school started to prepare for some kind of closure.
“We had our plans in place, but we asked the staff to brush up and prep the kids, to see who would need packets and who needed to check out Chromebooks,” Shoup said.
He said the two days to prepare will make a big difference.
“It will transition smoothly,” he said.
The school’s leadership surveyed the staff on Monday, the day after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced high schools would be required to close for three weeks, on how they felt about staying in-person for the lower grades.
“(K-12 Principal Mark Forner) and I sampled a number of teachers, food service workers and bus drivers. We had a meeting after school and have also been in meetings with area superintendents off and on all day,” Shoup said. “Our feeling is, and the staff as a whole was supportive of, continuing to move forward K-8 with face-to-face instruction, trying to get to Thanksgiving.”
The decision included one change to the schedule — making the half-day before Thanksgiving a remote learning day.
They will continue to monitor the numbers in the county during the break to determine how to move forward after the holiday, he said.
That week after Thanksgiving will be important to determine if there was increased exposure.
“It’s much different from the spring, when it was shut down suddenly,” he said. “We are still moving forward. We are still serving kids. We can’t lose sight of that and we can’t lose hope.”
The elementary and middle schoolers will be in-person for a total of five days before the Thanksgiving break.
“We think this is the smarter way to go. And that’s the plan for area schools as well, to try to keep moving forward to Thanksgiving,” Shoup said. “We are of firm belief that every day the kids can be in school that we are serving them better.”
Like other schools in the state, MCE has had to deal with a shortage in substitutes.
“Substitutes have been in short supply for three years. Whenever there are low unemployment rates, as there have been, there are fewer subs,” Shoup said.
The pool is usually made up of retired teachers or people who have just graduated college. Because those who are retired tend to be higher risk, the pandemic has removed a portion of the available substitutes.
“It’s been challenging, but we’ve been doing OK. We’ve been subbing in-house and covering for each other. It’s something we monitor each day,” he said.
If the school has too many teacher absences that aren’t filled by substitutes or covered in-house, the school will move to remote learning.
The board decided approved a five-percent raise for non-instructional staff based on the recommendation of the budget, negotiation and personnel committee.
The administration, support staff, food service staff and bus drivers had not received a raise in two years, while the teaching staff had. The raise is not equal to the teaching staff, but Board President Paul Drewry said it will keep the school competitive with others in the area.
Shoup also updated the board on the adolescent health center, which is in the process of being built in the school. The construction was halted due to an air unit configuration dilemma. As soon as that is sorted out, he expects construction to move faster.
He estimated the construction will be complete and the health center will be up and running by January.
The school received a $25,000 competitive grant from the Department of Education to aid with COVID-19 response, which Shoup said will be used for offsetting costs such as custodial staff working additional hours to meet cleaning requirements.
Number of confirmed cases in area counties
Mason County: 414 (139 recovered; 8 deaths)
Oceana County: 909 (512 recovered; 8 deaths)
Manistee County: 230 (92 recovered; 5 deaths)
Lake County: 129 (39 recovered; 1 death)
Wexford County: 371 (122 recovered; 11 deaths)
Newaygo County: 1,140 (453 recovered; 9 deaths)
— as of 4 p.m. Monday according to District Health Department No. 10,
Free drive-up flu-shot clinic Thursday at Lakeshore Food Club
The Lakeshore Food Club is partnering with the Ludington Meijer Pharmacy to set up a free, drive-up flu-shot clinic Thursday at the Lakeshore Food Club, 920 E Tinkham Ave. in Ludington.
“We are very excited for this collaboration with Meijer to make getting a flu shot easier and more accessible for the community,” said Executive Director O’Nealya Gronstal “Especially in 2020, we want to make sure that our members, volunteers and community (members) stay as healthy as possible.”
Meijer Pharmacy Manager Kaylin Healy said the one-day clinic will make flu shots more accessible to people in the community.
“I am so thrilled that Meijer Pharmacy, in combination with the State of Michigan, is able to provide free flu vaccinations to our community. This service will help to protect the health of individuals and their families who otherwise may not have easy access to the vaccine,” Healy said.
The drive-up flu shot clinic will take place in the food club’s parking lot. It is open to the public and free to everyone.
For additional information, contact the Lakeshore Food Club at (231) 480-4334.
A 33-year-old Scottville woman was arraigned Friday on 11 felony charges of embezzling from 11 different vulnerable adults before 79th District Court Judge Peter Wadel.
The Michigan State Police Hart Post investigated the allegations against Jessica Michelle Englebrecht, 33, 305 Broadway Ave., Scottville, and the charges were filed through the Michigan Attorney General’s office.
She was arraigned Friday on eight felony counts of embezzlement from a vulnerable adult more than $1,000 but less than $20,000, three felony counts of embezzlement from a vulnerable adult more than $200 but less than $1,000 and a felony count of caregiver comingling funds of vulnerable adults/obstructing investigators.
The felony complaint filed by Assistant Attorney General Daniel Gunderson in district court stated that Englebrecht was appointed as a guardian and/or conservator for 11 vulnerable adults from 2017 to 2019. The complaint alleges that Englebrecht used her position to “gain control of her clients’ finances.” It is alleged Englebrecht embezzled thousands of dollars in money and property from her clients, often transferring their money into her own account.”
The case was investigated by Trooper Kelsey Case of the Michigan State Police’s Hart Post.
Ryan Jarvi, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, told the Daily News that Englebrecht was appointed by the probate court to serve as a guardian and/or conservator to the 11 individuals.
Each of the eight felony counts of embezzlement of more than $1,000 but less than $20,000 carries a penalty of five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine or three times the value of the money or property involved, whichever is greater.
Each of the three felony counts of embezzlement of more than $200 but less than $1,000 caries a penalty of one year in jail and/or a $2,000 fine or three times the value of the money or property involved, which is ever greater.
The 12th felony count carries a penalty of two years in prison and/or a $25,000 fine.
Wadel set a personal recognizance bond at $7,500, and a probable cause hearing was scheduled for Nov. 25.