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  • Jim Townsend

Local Schools Reacting to Coronavirus Concerns

As state and national news outlets are delivering a constant stream of Coronavirus/COVID-19 updates, we wanted to take some time to reach out to local school and government officials on local impacts in the Portland community.

In an email to parents on March 11th, Portland Public Schools Superintendent William Heath said, “We are continuing to monitor information as it becomes available regarding COVID-19 in Michigan. We are also following guidance of local, state, and federal agencies for prevention, control, and containment of communicable diseases in schools.”

That email went on to say, “We continue to follow our regular cleaning and disinfecting protocols by cleaning frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, and countertops with disinfectant cleaners. Hand sanitizer and disposable wipes are also available for use in classrooms.” It also said, “We will continue to follow the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and the Ionia County Health Department surrounding communicable diseases. We will continue to provide updates to our school community as information becomes available.”

In a follow up phone call with the Beacon this evening, Heath said, “No trips have been canceled at this time. The district will review all trips and events to make sure we are doing due diligence to ensure kids are safe.” Heath said that he has “meetings scheduled to review all of them.”

In a press conference this evening, Michigan Governor Grethcen Whitmer made some suggestions to school districts. Heath said, “We will do our best to fulfill her recommendations.”

Heath explained that the district’s cleaning protocol are already heightened at this point in the year due to normal annual cold and flu season. This includes frequent cleaning of high contact surfaces like door knobs.

While many customers are reporting empty shelves of toilet paper and sanitizer at grocery stores, Heath said that the district supply chain still has ample inventory of cleaning supplies and paper products.

If a decision is made to stop face to face classroom instruction for a period of time, Heath is confident that the district has the proper resources in place for teachers to effectively communicate with students remotely, but areas of concern with remote learning are the quality of or the lack of internet access in students’ homes, as well as their access to devices. While the district may be able to help with some devices, it may not be able to help if the need is significant.

Heath also said the remote learning for all students would require the Michigan Depart of Education to temporarily relax some requirements.

In a release issued at 6:30 PM on March 11th, the Michigan High School Athletic Association said it was “planning to conduct all remaining winter postseason tournaments as scheduled. However, based on the recommendations from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this afternoon, the MHSAA is finalizing plans that will either prohibit or allow limited spectators through this Saturday’s events.”

The MHSAA release also said, “This weekend’s Boys Swimming & Diving Finals will be held as scheduled at Oakland University and the Holland Aquatic Center, but will be conducted with no on-site spectators. All events at both Swim Final locations will be streamed live at Specific plans and policies for spectators at this weekend’s Ice Hockey Semifinals & Finals, Girls Gymnastic Finals, Girls Regional Basketball and Boys District Basketball games will be provided by 10 a.m. Thursday, March 12. Spectator plans for the final two weeks of the Girls and Boys Basketball Tournaments will be provided by Monday, March 16.”

MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl was quoted as saying, “While this is unfortunate for many reasons, we intend to do everything possible to allow our students who have earned the opportunities to compete at these highest levels to do so. However, we also take seriously our responsibility to help slow the spread of this disease. We will continue to follow guidance from the Governor’s office, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, county health departments and our member schools, maintaining the flexibility necessary to allow us to finish this winter season and provide opportunities for lifetime memories to be made while keeping all involved in our events as safe as possible.”

St. Patrick School administration also sent a message to parents on Wednesday afternoon. Principal Randy Hodge forwarded this communication to The Beacon.

In that message, Hodge told the school community, “Our school and parish administration have been monitoring the spread of the virus closely and have been taking our usual precautions at both the parish and the school.”

The message also said, “St. Patrick School, as a matter of policy, already has the sanitary and hygiene safeguards and protocols recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in place.”

Hodge also stated that the St. Patrick’s was investigating alternative delivery methods. He said, “Our diocese and school staffs have been discussing methods of delivering lessons via the internet or other mediums in the event school has to be shut down for any reason. We will release information of those plans in the event they need to be enacted.”

Portland City Manager Tutt Gorman told the Beacon, “We have been closely monitoring this matter and discussing same with local and state health officials. On such matters, we appropriately defer to the CDC, HHS and the local health department.”

“We're taking the same basic precautionary steps as everyone, but until there are confirmed cases in our county or recommendation from public health officials, there are no plans to cancel any events or activities.”

Gorman added, “Whether it be a public health crisis or natural disaster, preparedness and informing the public is critical. However, it is also incumbent upon local officials to avoid causing unwarranted panic or concern. Responses should be measured and proportionate to protect life and property.”

A Facebook post from the Ionia County Health Department at 3:47 PM on March 11th said “There are currently no cases of COVID-19 in Ionia County, and no individuals under observation/quarantine.”

EDITORS NOTE 3/12/20: The original posting of this article on 3/11/20 stated “We did attempt to contact Portland St. Patrick School Principal Randy Hodge for this article, but at the time of this posting we had not yet received a response.” That was incorrect. St. Patrick’s Principal Randy Hodge did respond to our email before the piece was posted, but this message was not seen due to an error on the part of the Beacon. This piece has been updated to include information for St. Patrick School, and we apologize for the error.

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