FLUSHING — Staffing shortages and mass quarantines have prompted Flushing Community Schools to return to a 100 percent virtual learning format after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Last Tuesday, the Flushing School Board unanimously approved an extended COVID-19 Learning Plan and the return of remote-only classes for all grades starting Nov. 30. Students in grades K-8 took their final in-person classes on Tuesday and will resume with online instruction after the holiday break.
Flushing High School students have already transitioned to remote learning, following an emergency order from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to pause in-person learning for high schools starting Nov. 18.
Although the state health department’s order allowed districts to continue in-person instruction for grades K-8, FCS Superintendent Matt Shanafelt said that the growing number of quarantined students and teachers has stretched the district’s staff thin.
“Last Friday, we had 51 teacher absences throughout the district,” he said. “This left us scrambling to put things together and get subs. And we still had 17 uncovered positions. Despite our best efforts and hiring premiere substitute teachers, we still cannot cover all of our absences, and we do not expect the situation to get better over the coming days.”
Shanafelt said that while there has been no evidence of transmission of COVID-19 between students and/or staff in school buildings, some students have been contracting the virus outside the school setting. This has forced dozens of close contacts inside the district, including teachers and staff members, to quarantine and miss several days of in-person classes.
“We are keeping kids home not because of positive cases, but because of the number of quarantined students and staff,” Shanafelt said. “It has made our current hybrid model unsustainable for a continuity of learning, and it’s become impossible for teachers to keep up.”
Since. Oct 12, FCS has reported a total of 14 COVID-19 positive students and two positive cases among staff members.
Following Shanafelt’s briefing, Flushing School Board President Salvatore Ausiello revealed that he had been recently diagnosed with COVID-19 and was dealing with symptoms even as he participated in the online school board meeting. Ausiello said that the virus had hit him very hard—to the point where he had to be hospitalized and treated. He is now recovering at home.
“This is real,” Ausiello said in describing the threat posed by COVID-19. “We need to take this seriously. As a board member, I will do what I can to protect our school family… I will support what our administrators are doing.”
Flushing School Board Treasurer Peter Weinrauch said that he contracted COVID-19 around a month ago and had also been hospitalized because of the virus. Weinrauch, who is a high school teacher in the West Bloomfield School District, said that students won’t be able to receive high-quality education with the quarantines and the current state of COVID-19 spread outside the classroom.
“I see the effect of what happens when kids are sitting at their computers all day instead of being in class,” Weinrauch added. “I see how tough it is on them. But if we don’t take this (COVID-19) seriously at a community level, we affect everybody who wants to be back in school.”
To see updates on FCS’ remote learning schedule, visit flushingschools.org.