KINGSLEY — Kingsley Area Schools, Elk Rapids Schools and Kalkaska Public Schools districts will close for two days next week because of illness and staff shortages.
On Friday, Kingsley, Elk Rapids and Kalkaska superintendents sent out announcements to their students’ families that their schools would close and classes would be canceled for Monday and Tuesday next week. With Wednesday through Friday already being off days because of Thanksgiving, students will not return to schools in these districts until Nov. 29.
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“Some schools went through this a couple weeks ago,” said Kingsley Superintendent Keith Smith. “I know a lot of us are getting hit with it right now.”
Smith said he was not confident that Kingsley schools would hit the required 75 percent attendance rates, and he knows closing is the right choice. Nevertheless, the anticipation of making the decision left him feeling unwell all day, he said.
“It kills me. It’s literally the part of my job that makes me the most stressful,” Smith said. “It’s a very tough decision, I understand the impact on families and parents but at the end of the day you gotta do what’s best for kids.”
Smith said Kinglsey schools closing is not necessary because of COVID-19; Kingsley is seeing many students and staff absent with the flu as well. On Monday, Kingsley schools were at 75 percent attendance, the minimum required for them to be able to count the day, Smith said.
“For two days off we get nine days … hopefully that allows the kids to get healthy and we can keep kids in schools for more days especially from Thanksgiving to Christmas,” Smith said.
Kingsley schools do not have a mask mandate, and Smith said that is not likely to change. He said has not seen substantial differences in cases in schools between local schools with and without mask mandates.
Elk Rapids Superintendent Julie Brown announced through Facebook that classes would be canceled for her students on Monday and Tuesday next week. In the announcement, Brown said the district is monitoring 20 active COVID-19 cases, including three new cases reported Friday.
Elk Rapids has more than eight staff members on sick leave, personal leave or out of the district on school business, which pushed the district into a situation where some classrooms next week cannot be covered, Brown said in the announcement. Elk Rapids was conducting over 100 rapids tests, but has run out of supplies and now cannot sustain that practice, Brown said.
“This ‘pause’ in learning provides staff, students, and families to get healthy,” Brown said in the announcement. “When we return to school Monday, November 29, all currently positive cases and close contacts will be out of quarantine requirements and may return to school.”
Kalkaska Public Schools sent out an email Friday announcing that its schools would not be open Monday and Tuesday of next week due to “higher-than-average illness rates” and low daily student attendance. The email stated that the attendance rate had been about 10 percent lower than usual.
“We have more than fifty (50) students quarantined due to at-home positive COVID-19 cases,” the email said.
The email said the extra days during the Thanksgiving break would be used for a “thorough, deep cleaning” of Kalkaska schools facilities.
“We apologize in advance for any inconvenience this might cause, and we sincerely hope you will understand the necessity of this decision,” the email said.
Bellaire Public Schools canceled classes for a week in mid-October after eight students and two staff tested positive for COVID-19 within one week. Glen Lake Community Schools canceled classes for two days during the first week of November after it reported COVID-19 in 10 students and one staff member.
Glen Lake Superintendent Mark Mattson said his school district has since recovered from the COVID outbreak and the large number of absences they were seeing early in November.
“We were going to see 92 students and staff out of our building for COVID related reasons — quarantine, isolation or close contact, that sort of thing,” Mattson said. “Today, we’re at 32, so we feel like we’re in a way better spot than we were a couple of weeks ago.”
Benzie Superintendent Amiee Erfourth said her district is not planning on canceling classes next week, either. Erfourth said she has been watching her district’s daily attendance rates rise in the past week from 82 percent on Monday to 87 percent on Thursday, but if that number falls below 80 percent, she will consider canceling classes.
In terms of staffing, Benzie faced some difficulties with bus drivers this week — one of their drivers was out for hunting season — but they were able to get through the week with the help of local public transportation. With teachers, Erfourth said they have been able to fully staff their schools.
“So far we have been able to cover all positions,” Erfourth said. “We’ve had a lot of teachers stepping up and filling in for each other.”
Traverse City Area Public Schools are currently doing well with attendance numbers and plan to go back to school on Monday and Tuesday of next week, Superintendent John VanWagoner said. TCAPS’s attendance rates have been high — above 90 percent most days this week — but there have been some staffing challenges, VanWagoner said.
“We are running tight on subs,” VanWagoner said.
On Friday, TCAPS sent out an email to families of students in TCAPS schools to let them know about the staffing challenges the school district is currently facing and warning them of potential future closures, VanWagoner said.
“All of this literally can change in 24 hours … we’re looking at it literally every day and taking it day-by-day,” VanWagoner said.