Unless state and local recommendations change, students returning to St. Clair County schools in the fall will likely have a sense of normalcy after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the school environment.
The Centers for Disease Control released new guidance Tuesday recommending masking for all students, teachers and staff in K-12, regardless of vaccination status.
Superintendents at Marysville, Yale, Port Huron, Algonac, Memphis, Capac, Landmark Academy and Eastshore Leadership Academy said masks will be optional for students and staff, however, that can change based on recommendations from the state or the St. Clair County Health Department.
Prior to the change in the CDC’s recommendations, East China School District Superintendent Suzanne Cybulla also said masking will be optional for students and staff, however, they did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Annette Mercatante, the county’s medical health officer, said the health department is recommending masking for students and staff, however, it is not mandatory, per the CDC guidelines.
The CDC also recommended that students return to in-person learning in the fall with layered prevention strategies in place.
Mercatante said the health department supports in-person instruction.
“We support in-person learning as the best place for our children to learn and thrive. However, it is our duty to monitor the situation, watch disease transmission, do surveillance and make data-driven recommendations and decisions on the healthiest measures for our community. Remember the very real outcome of a COVID-19 outbreak/transmission are long term illness, hospitalizations and death,” Mercatante said in an email.
“This risk, vs the risk of impaired social, emotional and academic learning, are a challenging and constantly changing juggling match that we are all learning to navigate. There are many ways to improve the resiliency of our children and population despite making sacrifices with life. We need to focus on this as much as we can. It doesn’t need to be ‘either/ or.'”
Extracurricular activities and sports with spectators will return, several St. Clair County superintendents said, unless state and local guidelines recommend otherwise.
Mercatante said recommendations are based on the level of community transmission. During high transmission periods, activities may be paused, health screening and testing may be considered and social distancing measures implemented, as well as increased hygiene efforts put in place.
It is likely the community will see a rise in cases in the coming weeks as a result of the Delta variant, which was first identified in the county last week. The health department will support schools as much as possible to allow ongoing in-person learning.
The most important tool to end the COVID-19 pandemic, and to help students return to in-person learning, is for more of the community to become vaccinated, Mercatante said. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, she said.
To get vaccinated, schedule an appointment online at the St. Clair County Health Department’s website at scchealth.co or call(810) 987-5300. The teen health location offers COVID vaccines for those aged 12 to 2call (810) 987-1311 for an appointment. Many local pharmacies also offer the vaccine.
Virtual options available at some school districts
East China, Port Huron, Memphis, and Capac school districts and Landmark Academy are offering a fully virtual learning option.
“We realize that some families may not be ready to go back to in-person learning,” Algonac Community Schools Superintendent Al Latosz said.
Keely Baribeau, Port Huron Area School District spokeswoman, said while the school district has offered a virtual option for many years, the pandemic increased requests for it and the district felt it was important to keep.
Yale and Marysville school districts and Eastshore Leadership Academy will not offer a virtual option.
Yale Public Schools Superintendent Kurt Sutton said the best place for students to learn is in the classroom.
“The need to interact, have a discussion and engage is often better done in-person than it is virtually and the pandemic has really illustrated that for us,” Sutton said.
While social and emotional supports existed for students before the pandemic, several superintendents have said it highlighted the importance of meeting all students’ needs.
Superintendents at Algonac, Yale, Memphis, Marysville and East China schools and East Shore Leadership Academy said a boost in base funding for the 2021-22 school year will be used to create additional supports to meet students’ social and emotional needs after the pandemic caused huge disruptions to students’ learning and lives.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently signed a K-12 school funding bill that increased base funding from $8,111 per student in most state school districts to $8,700 per student in all schools.
Another common plan for the increase in funding is to provide additional academic support for students who have experienced learning loss during the pandemic or may be struggling academically.
Port Huron Superintendent Theo Kerhoulas said the district has formed a committee for student recovery as they return from the pandemic, focusing on student wellness, academics, school climate and family engagement. More details on the committee will be released next week.
Contact Laura Fitzgerald at (810) 941-7072 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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