By ZEINAB NAJM
HEIGHTS — Dearborn Heights District No. 7 switched to virtual learning for all students Nov. 15 following a new three-week epidemic order from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Prior to the order, the district was offering virtual and in-person learning to students based on a choice made by families. Supt. Jennifer Mast made the decision to move not just high school students to virtual learning, as required by the MDHHS order, but middle and elementary school students as well.
“Colleges and high schools may proceed with remote learning, but must end in-person classes,” the order read. “Michigan has seen fewer outbreaks associated with elementary and middle schools, and younger children are most in need of in-person instruction.
“In-person K-8 schooling may continue if it can be done with strong mitigation, including mask requirements, based on discussion between local health and school officials. Childcare also remains open to support working parents.
“Throughout this crisis, Michigan’s teachers and childcare workers have served on the front lines ensuring support for working parents and educating our children. Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration has worked around the clock to protect Michigan’s teachers and childcare workers and the other heroes serving on the front lines of the pandemic.”
During a Nov. 18 virtual Q&A, Mast said the change went into effect that day and that over the weekend the district had a huge influx of COVID-19 cases.
Mast also said the health department contacts the district when they identity a school associated case, which had not happened as of Nov. 18.
“We have had a huge influx of cases in the last couple of days and I’m assuming that we will start to get calls that there are some school associated cases,” she said.
From Friday to Sunday, five staff members and three students tested positive in addition to 14 teachers and over 80 students who had to begin quarantining themselves.
“That was a clear indicator to me that things were starting to move in the district,” Mast said. “So when the order came out on Sunday night, I looked at those numbers from the weekend, and the majority of our cases and quarantines from the weekend were all at the elementary level. One at middle and none at high school.”
When the MDHHS order came out Nov. 15, Mast made the recommendation that all grade levels needed to stay home for the three weeks because it was the best and safest option for all students and staff.
She said more cases were reported from students and staff since Nov. 16.
“We are looking out for everyone in the district, staff included,” Mast said.“It’s very hard for me to make a decision to say that what’s going on isn’t safe for students and staff at the high school level but it is OK and safe for students and staff at the lower levels. I would never would want anyone to feel as though one level or one group is less important or we’re less worried about them. The numbers definitely supported that as well.”
The school board unanimously approved the district’s fall 2020 re-entry plan, as required every 30 days, with the added virtual classes change.
Mast said that the district will continue virtual learning through Dec. 9 unless MDHHS extends or changes its epidemic order.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])