File photo by Deb Jacques

Clawson Public Schools goes remote for three weeks

District to make decision Dec. 4 about in-person return

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published November 19, 2020

File photo by Deb Jacques

CLAWSON — During an emergency meeting Nov. 16, the Clawson Board of Education unanimously approved a three-week pause from the district’s hybrid — both in-person and remote — learning model, as recommended by Superintendent Tim Wilson.

Students, from those in the Great Start Readiness Program through 12th grade, will remain remote until Dec. 8. The district will review state, county and district data and make a determination Dec. 4 whether or not to reinstate in-person learning on Dec. 9.

If the district decides the data has not improved enough to return to face-to-face education Dec. 9, learning will remain virtual until Jan. 8. On Jan. 7, the district will review data and, if safe, possibly return to in-person learning Jan. 11. If data still has not shown enough improvement by Jan. 7, remote learning will continue until Jan. 25.

“The process of reviewing the data and making decisions based upon the data will continue every two weeks until the data demonstrates that it is safe to return to in-person learning,” Wilson wrote in a Nov. 11 letter to the CPS community.

Restrictions enacted by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will also impact what the district does.

On. Nov. 3, Wilson initially announced that the district would remain open following Oakland County’s rapid escalation from a “C” rating to an “E” on the county COVID-19 risk determination chart, as surrounding districts closed. “E” is the highest risk level, meaning cases are at 150 or greater per million, with 20% or greater positivity.

According to Oakland County school COVID-19 nurse Courtney Foote, 81 out of 83 counties in Michigan, including Oakland, are at a risk level of “E.” As of Nov. 11, Oakland County had 470 cases per million, with 12.1% positive; as of Nov. 12, Michigan had 403 cases per million, with 10.7% positive.

Wilson said officials did not include an “F” rating because they did not believe it would be necessary at the time they created the risk determination chart.

He said the district at the time Nov. 3 had no issues with being able to staff its buildings; however, that changed as recently as Nov. 9. Paralleling the trends throughout Oakland County, the district began to see more cases in students and staff, as well as those in 14-day quarantine periods, and it is beginning to encounter a staffing shortage.

According to a chart Wilson presented using district data collected daily, five students and two staff members tested positive and 60 students and 14 staff members were quarantined as of the morning of Nov. 16.

However, the district learned in the afternoon that a teacher at Schalm Elementary was exposed to a family member who tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend and began to show symptoms, so the teacher’s entire class of 20-25 students has to quarantine, he said.

Wilson added that “concerning” data from Oct. 13 to Nov. 13 also led to his recommendation for a three-week return to remote learning.

On Oct. 13, the state had 150,352 confirmed cases and 6,998 deaths, including 1,237 new cases and 30 new deaths, with a positivity rate of 4%. On Nov. 13, the state had 244,741 confirmed cases and 7,928 deaths, including 8,516 new cases and 118 new deaths, with a positivity rate of 13%.

“I can’t ignore what’s happening and safety has to come first for me as a superintendent,” Wilson said. “What we’re seeing in our district right now, we’re actually seeing more cases in K-8 than we do at the high school level, so it is significant for all age groups.”

He added that any time his phone goes off, he cringes because it’s usually about new positive cases or quarantine situations.

“It truly keeps me up at night because it’s things nobody has control of,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of parents and students pulling at my heartstrings (to leave school open or) to close because it’s not safe, so I’m trying to make my decisions based on the data.”

Wilson’s recommendation included keeping the child care and tuition preschool open, as long there were enough employees to work and enough children enrolled to keep the program at least breaking even, along with a daily review of data to decide if the center remains open.

All athletic programs, however, will be paused until Dec. 8. The Michigan High School Athletic Association suspended all fall and winter sports seasons and postseason tournaments for the next three weeks in response to Whitmer’s “pause to save lives.”

Ted Verner, school board treasurer, thanked Wilson for his work analyzing the district’s data and offering a “justified” recommendation.

“I think you did the responsible thing by reacting based on our data,” Verner said. “I’m good with your recommendations. I think you’re spot on.”

Kimberley Carlesimo, school board president, agreed with Verner.

“We are all in this together and in no way is this a decision any of us are taking lightly,” Carlesimo said. “This is not an easy time for any of us. None of us signed up for this, but we are all here and this is the hand that we were dealt, so thank you for putting faith in us and in Mr. Wilson.”