Virtual learning to continue into January in Swartz Creek

SWARTZ CREEK — After much discussion and soul searching, the Swartz Creek Community Schools Board of Education voted last week to continue on the online instructional format until at least January 19, just prior to the end of the semester.

School board President Carrie Germain was one official who struggled with her decision, taking a little extra time to weigh the pros and cons before casting the tie-breaking vote in the 4-3 decision.

Vice President Brian Sepanak, and Trustees Chuck Melki and Alicia Gardner voted against the motion.

The district went to a fully online modality in November, first on Nov. 17 for 9th through 12th-grade students following the state Department of Health and Human Services order to suspend in-person instruction at high schools, then on Nov. 23 for kindergarten through 8th graders due to staffing shortages.

Students in the face-to-face and hybrid formats were set to return to school this week, just two weeks before winter break.

Trustee Tony Paul said the decision was difficult.

“I agree kids need to be in school,” Paul said. “But how many teachers can you afford to have get sick before you have to close a building down? I don’t think we have the staff to make it for the next two weeks.”

Superintendent Ben Mainka said the district could manage a return to the classroom with substitute teachers, but at the time of the meeting, 22 teachers were out sick.

Board Secretary Jessica Lanave said the constant back-and-forth could be detrimental.

“Is that adding stress?” she asked. “Is it worth it?”

She said the numbers are rising, with 373 students quarantined in late November, as compared to 195 in October.

There was also concern about how Thanksgiving Day travel might affect those statistics.

“Medical personnel are saying we will see the effects in a couple of weeks, and there will be a surge,” said Treasurer Mike Ahearne. “They predict Christmas travel will be the same.”

He said the students may be safer in school because it is a controlled environment and they must adhere to safety rules, but if the numbers soar and more teachers fall ill, the board will have no choice but to shut down the buildings.

“With no staff, there’s no school,” he said. “There’s no replacement for face-to-face learning. There’s also no replacement for a COVID death, and there’s going to be more COVID deaths (generally speaking).”

Mainka said the numbers are likely to increase with students not being in school because they are going places where they are not wearing masks or social distancing, and they’re socializing with family members outside their homes.

Germain called the board’s decision challenging, but necessary.

“I know there are people in the community struggling with this,” she said. “We look out for our children. I know this is hardest for the students. It’s also very difficult for the educators, administrators and staff. So, let’s hope this (virus) goes away.”