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Officials: School virus plans working

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Alpena High School students leave the school on Tuesday. Students returned to school on Monday and Tuesday after attending school remotely last week because of a coronavirus scare.

ALPENA — Northeast Michigan school routines have been repeatedly disrupted since classes began this fall, but district officials and local public health experts insist the school year is going well, overall.

Schools have reported 11 instances of students or staff either being infected themselves or being exposed to an infected person. Those virus threats in Alpena Public Schools, Alpena Community College, Alcona Community Schools, and Onaway Area Schools have canceled planned in-person classes and forced kids and adults to isolate until health officials gave the all-clear.

District Health Department No. 4 Medical Director Josh Meyerson said last week that health officials continue to meet with superintendents and a lot of hard work has been done to keep kids in school. Districts across the area are mixing online and in-person classes and staggering student schedules to give kids room to social distance, and are deep-cleaning schools when students aren’t there.

As soon as cases have popped up in schools, Meyerson said, the schools and health departments have been able to work together to quickly identify what actions need to be taken.

“Schools are operating and kids are in school,” he said. “I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve been able to keep that going.”

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Two Alpena High School students leave the school on Tuesday.

At APS, where Alpena High School, Sanborn Elementary School, and Ella White Elementary School have all had virus threats, Superintendent David Rabbideau said the most recent transition to remote learning at the high school went “very smooth.” He said virus planning before the school year allowed the school to easily “flip the switch.”

However, Rabbideau said there is always room for improvement and communication could always get better, so district officials are working on that.

“As we go through anything for the first time, there’s challenges and successes, and I’d say that’s been pretty normal, as far as this experience,” he said.

Rabbideau said District Health Department No. 4 officials have said the district’s COVID-19 plan is working.

“They are seeing instances of community spread, but not spread within the schools, so they complimented us and encouraged us to continue doing the measures that we’re doing, including masking, social distancing, and our cleaning routines,” he said.

At Alcona Community Schools, which has had virus scares at a Head Start classroom, on its football team, and at its middle/high school, Superintendent Dan O’Connor said “interruptions, while not ideal, are expected during this year.”

“Even in the case of quarantine, we will continue learning through a variety of ways to assist students to continue to have access to education,” O’Connor said in an email to The News.

At Onaway Area Schools, which was closed on Monday after a virus scare, Superintendent Rod Fullerton said “we’re following our procedures and we’re hopeful our procedures will continue to keep any sickness out of our buildings.”

Fullerton said the district could potentially run into problems if staff are required to self-isolate, if there are not enough substitutes to cover their staffing needs.

Meyerson, of the Health Department, said all residents have a role to play in keeping schools open by maintaining coronavirus prevention methods.

While the school year has been challenging for schools, O’Connor, of Alcona, said there have been some positive things to come out of the pandemic. He said there are smaller class sizes, breakfasts are now eaten in classrooms, and adjustments have been made to recess.

Additionally, more of an emphasis has been placed on outdoor learning and accessing the school’s hiking trails and property features.

He said district officials are also looking at options to extend learning opportunities this summer for students in “as many ways as possible.”

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.

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