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Lutheran North leaders, education group discuss coronavirus

By: Alex Szwarc | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published March 10, 2020

 At Lutheran High School North, conversations are taking place on how the school would operate in the event it has to temporarily close due to health concerns.

At Lutheran High School North, conversations are taking place on how the school would operate in the event it has to temporarily close due to health concerns.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Everywhere one looks, headlines abound regarding the new coronavirus.

Every day, new information is being revealed about the outbreak, which the World Health Organization, or WHO, reported had claimed the lives of over 3,000 people globally as of March 6.

In late January, WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.”

This school year, four students from China, part of the Weiming Education program, attend Lutheran High School North.

While none of their family members in China have contracted the coronavirus, officials said the foreign exchange students are not stressed out about the situation.

Lutheran North Principal John Reincke said the school is praying for the families in China and encouraging them to get through “this rough time in your country.”

In regard to what Chinese students attending Lutheran North are saying about the impact the outbreak has had on their families, and what precautions are in place, Reincke said one of the students indicated that their parents have a time card that says when they can go out of their home and gather provisions.

“They have a certain time frame to thin out how many people are on the streets at the same time,” Reincke said.

Three Lutheran North foreign exchange students have family in Chongqing, with one student’s family in Guiyang. Both municipalities are southwest of Wuhan — Guiyang about 650 miles away, and Chongqing roughly 545 miles away.   

“Lutheran North is one of our partner high schools, where students studying abroad come to study,” Weiming Public Relations and Communications Manager Rick Schaffner said.

The last time Lutheran North students part of the Weiming program were in China was in late December. Weiming Education Executive Director Jie Billinger and Schaffner were also in China at that time.

“According to public news, the outbreak was announced in mid-January,” Billinger said.

Billinger said that as an organization, Weiming has communicated to its staff to pay attention to foreign students’ well-being.

“Based on our observations, we haven’t heard of students who are stressed out about the situation,” Billinger said.

Schaffner said that none of the families of Chinese students at Lutheran North have been directly impacted by the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and the disease it causes — coronavirus disease 2019, now abbreviated COVID-19.

Billinger indicated that Weiming hasn’t heard much from exchange students in America because they aren’t discussing the situation.

“According to the news, Wuhan has been the most impacted city and it sounds like school hasn’t resumed, banks are closed, and they want to limit travel and people’s interaction,” Billinger said.

Due to the unknown nature of the outbreak, Billinger said that people around the world, not just in China, are worried about COVID-19.

“We are planning ahead for this summer, because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “In China, our campuses are all online now, and the school is still in session.”

Reincke said there have been conversations with Lutheran North officials on how the school would operate in the event it has to temporarily close due to health concerns.

“How do you conduct school when you can’t gather as a study body?” Reincke said. “I have teachers starting to think how they would conduct their classes remotely. Whether we want to or not, we may be told we have to do that for the time being.”

Schaffner said Weiming is planning on what to do if students in the program choose not to return to China in the summer.

“We’ll have Michigan summer programming options so they have things they can participate in,” he said.

Reincke said he has reminded Lutheran North students that regardless of the coronavirus, it is still flu season, and that they should stop sharing drinks, wash their hands, and if they’re sick, stay home.

In the coming weeks, Weiming will see if school continues being delayed in China, and how that will affect fall enrollment for Chinese students studying in America.   

Weiming Education, a K-12 private education group, is headquartered in Beijing, China. It opened in China in 1999 and has 19 campuses throughout 15 provinces in China. It began operating in Michigan in 2012 in Troy.

Billinger told the Macomb Township Chronicle that Weiming has around 40,000 students and 5,000 teachers in China. Right now, it is the largest private education group in the world’s largest country by population.

On March 2, the Macomb County Health Department reported that there are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the county. Figures from the CDC at press time show that there are 99 COVID-19 cases in the U.S., with 10 U.S. deaths, and cases reported in 13 states.