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Grateful for state, school virus transparency

Many school districts across the region will begin class in the week ahead.

While always a time for some tears and jitters for students and parents, this year, it will be even more so.

My grandkids in Ohio already have several weeks of school under their belts. From what they tell me, the experience has been a good one — masks and all. They are excited to be with friends again, and eagerly anticipate new experiences in the classroom.

I expect that will be the case in Northeast Michigan schools, as well.

Certainly, staff have done everything possible to ensure safety protocols are in place and the schools are sanitized and sparkling for the returning students.

Yet, it would be a lie to suggest any of us haven’t ramped up our prayers for the schools, students, and staff in recent weeks.

I believe all of us face the situation with a bit of trepidation about the unknown.

That is why The Alpena News, in collaboration with other newspapers and news sources around the state, made a request of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state officials this week to share with the public any information about any positive coronavirus tests for school employees or students in a district. I was pleased that, as the week ends, Whitmer has promised to indeed do that.

I believe — and the other newspapers and transparency advocates we joined in writing to Whitmer believed, as well – that the public has a right to know that information as soon as possible.

I also was pleased that area school superintendents shared our way of thinking. Area school leaders were on board to get that information out and into the public realm should a positive test occur locally.

Up until this week, superintendents and school officials were not required to share such information with the public.

A newspaper story we ran on Wednesday revealed that all the superintendents we talked to indicated they would share infection information if it happened in one of their district’s schools.

That was comforting, and should have given parents some peace.

With Whitmer’s indication later that same day that state officials now will also report that information, everyone will know if an outbreak occurs in a school.

Such reporting is important right now.

Late in August, 14 outbreaks of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, were reported at Michigan schools and colleges that had just reopened, but no state official would confirm where those outbreaks were.

Some colleges, like Central Michigan University, went public about their positive cases, but, in many other instances, the public never knew.

I believe parents need to know if someone tests positive at a school where their child attends. I believe we need to be as transparent as possible right now, to give families of school students and staff assurances that everything is being done to ensure their safety.

These are trying times.

We didn’t need to make things worse by withholding information.

The governor certainly did the right thing by fixing the system of reporting COVID-19 cases. From this point forward, officials will identify school districts, and buildings within a district, where a positive case occurs.

As school bells ring across the state in the week ahead, everyone should have a bit more reassurance as their children head to class.

Bill Speer can be reached at 989-354-3111, ext. 311, or bspeer@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @billspeer13.

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