At the April 26 Board of Education meeting, the school board voted 6-1 on a resolution to revise quarantine and close-contact tracing rules that upset many parents and staff members. Others, however, agreed with the motion.

At the April 26 Board of Education meeting, the school board voted 6-1 on a resolution to revise quarantine and close-contact tracing rules that upset many parents and staff members. Others, however, agreed with the motion.

File photo by Deb Jacques


Grosse Pointe staff, parents sound off on board’s COVID-19 resolution revision

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published May 4, 2021

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GROSSE POINTES — The past year has been rough on everyone because of the COVID-19 virus.

One of the many issues the Grosse Pointe Public School System has faced is whether or not to open schools in-person full-time, in a hybrid format or in a virtual format.

The district has done all three methods. Currently, students are either attending online only in the GP Virtual program or face-to-face full-time with a list of safety precautions.

At the April 26 Board of Education meeting, the school board voted 6-1 on a resolution to revise quarantine and close-contact tracing rules. The resolution included the following:

“Per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, guidelines, contact tracing shall be conducted to trace students to a distance of 3 feet, not 6 feet; for students identified as a ‘close contact,’ GPPSS shall allow students to return to the school setting after 10 days rather than 14 days; with respect to contact tracing, if a student is or has been identified as a ‘close contact,’ the student may obtain a rapid test on the fifth day or later from the date of COVID contact. If the test yields a negative COVID test, the student may return to the classroom on day seven, following the date of the COVID contact.”

Board Trustee David Brumbaugh, who wanted to table the resolution agenda item, was the dissenting vote.

“We’re still in the midst of a serious pandemic. While I think this resolution was presented with good intentions, I move to table it because there are too many unanswered questions,” Brumbaugh said. “This is too important to rush.”

The resolution also focuses on mental health issues students have endured because of being isolated during quarantining.

“We’re still going to be quarantining students, but I think this is a more balanced way to quarantine,” board Secretary Christopher Lee said. “My own strong feeling is that schools are generally pretty safe. There’s risk of exposure everywhere every day for all of us. I think this is a very balanced way to get our kids in school but yet still offer them protection. So that’s why I’m in favor of it.”

 

‘It puts students and staff at unnecessary risk’
Several parents and staff members voiced their opinions on the resolution during the meeting’s first hearing of the public held prior to the vote. Many who spoke out urged the board not to support the resolution because they said it wasn’t safe for staff or students. Others supported the resolution.

Grosse Pointe Education Association President Christopher Pratt didn’t want the resolution to pass.

“This resolution, while offered under the guise of mental health, is a red herring,” said Pratt, also the Grosse Pointe South High School choral director. “The idea that safety and the steps to ensure the safety of thousands of students and hundreds of staff and our larger community in this district is debatable is as astounding as it is frightening.

“It seeks to minimize mitigation efforts by locally lowering the standards of contact tracing and allowing unreliable tests to dictate student return without any data and research attached,” Pratt said. “It is the safety that is the heart of debate tonight. Michigan is still amid its third COVID spike. Data matters. Science matters. Watering down mitigation strategies are inconsistent with CDC guidelines and are antithetical to your own board policy.”

There are 500 GPEA members.

“The association isn’t in favor of going to 100% virtual,” Pratt said. However, with an increase in COVID-19 cases in the district and in the state of Michigan, Pratt said teachers wanted to return to a hybrid format for two weeks in an effort to get the number of cases down.

“The resolution has changed that. Lowering the safety protocols is not the answer. After a two-week break, hopefully we could finish out the year strong and finish out the school year (in-person) full-time,” Pratt said.

Many staff members and parents also felt the resolution was not consistent with the CDC or the Wayne County Public Health Division’s COVID-19 guidelines.

Pierce Middle School teacher Heather Albrecht shared her thoughts on the resolution.

“We all prefer face-to-face instruction and acknowledge that, at this time, it is not safe to do so. The board proposal concerning mental health and returning to school is very concerning,” Albrecht said. “As a teacher, student safety and mental health are my priority, but this proposal is tone deaf to the other serious mental health implications caused by the fear of catching COVID from sitting in a crowded room or, worse, spreading that to those you love. This proposal also disregards the serious health complications that can be caused through catching COVID. … Now is not the time to reduce mitigations for student safety. If we were in a hybrid situation, I could keep all my students safe.”

Others who spoke were in favor of the resolution.

“I applaud you for taking the bold steps of amending the close-contact quarantine policy,” Grosse Pointe Park resident and parent Terence Collins said. “My daughter will be the first person through the door tomorrow at South when you amend the policy. She meets both criteria. It’s crazy what we’re doing to our kids. We know that our schools are safe. There’s less spread in our schools than there is anywhere else within our current society.”

GPPSS student Michael Hart also supported the resolution.

“The current policies in place that require a blanket 14-day quarantine for exposed students are far too precautionary and based more on hysteria rather than the scientific and medical information we know about the spread of COVID-19,” Hart said.

“Although dozens of my peers have been quarantined, many of them multiple times, not one has contracted COVID-19,” Hart said. “However, their mental health has suffered, and they have lost so much learning. This has obviously led to frustration among students and parents, some of whom have already decided they are not returning to the school system next fall.”

To view the complete resolution, visit gpschools.org.

 

116 staff members take a sick day
On April 28, 116 staff members across the district, including teachers and support staff, took a sick day. The district has an average of 61 staff absences per day. There was talk in the community that the staff members took the day off collectively in response to the resolution, but neither Pratt nor Superintendent Gary Niehaus could confirm that. Pratt took last Wednesday off at school and worked in the GPEA office.

According to Niehaus, the staff members don’t need to state why they are taking the day off but need to “go into the app to ask for a substitute day.” Because of the absences, the district hired substitute teachers and brought in other administrators to cover classes. Niehaus taught TV Production and German classes at Grosse Pointe North High School.

“I supervised and visited with students,” he said in an email. “It was great to be around students.”

When asked if having so many teachers off on one day hurt the students, Niehaus responded, “Yes — we need our teachers and their expertise in the classrooms daily.”

Pratt said that, for several years, the GPPSS teachers have felt like they were not being heard by the central administration and the school board — especially this year, when it comes to classroom safety and COVID-19.

“They’re not interested in teachers or (building) administration input. They don’t have an interest in listening,” Pratt said. “Teachers have not been asked to be part of the conversation on precautions, mitigation and the instruction plan. We’re in the classrooms doing the work.”

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