MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – Following Governor Whitmer’s Friday news conference where she asked for schools to suspend in-person learning and athletics for two weeks, we contacted numerous school districts to see how they plan to move forward.

We first spoke with Escanaba Area Public School’s (EAPS) Superintendent, Coby Fletcher. We also were able to speak with Michigan Educator’s Association Chapter Co-President and Houghton High School Math teacher, Debra Zei.

“After we received notification of the Governor’s requests, we took a look at how things were for us right now as a school. We’re glad to have the latitude to make the decision on our own. Looking at the numbers we have seen recently, there haven’t been many cases or probable cases that have impacted us.” Fletcher continued, “So we’re comfortable continuing school at all levels including the high school level.”

Superintendent Fletcher said Winter sports are coming to a close and Spring sports starting soon. Escanaba Schools is already participating in testing mandated by the MDHHS and is supported by the MHSAA. For those reasons, they do not feel their situation merits going to virtual instruction or pausing athletics.

We asked Fletcher about the challenges of transitioning to virtual learning.

“It’s not necessarily challenging to do, it’s challenging for the people that have to go through it. For students to have to go from face-to-face to virtual to face-to-face to virtual, is a challenge. It’s challenging for the teachers. They’ve gotten really good at it. So I think they would make a smooth transition. We’ve gone the past several months with fairly stable face-to-face instruction and we’d really like to keep it that way,” said Fletcher.

At the secondary level, Superintendent Fletcher says EAPS streams all of its classes every day. If a parent has concerns about the rising rate of cases or general health concerns, students can stream from home at any time.

Fletcher also spoke with us about how they monitor cases to inform decisions.

“We meet with the health department on a weekly basis and we watch the number of quarantines going on. So we’re always very aware of where the situation is.”

“This entire experience has been filled with unknown circumstances.” Zei continued, “We would like to be able to keep the decision making at the local level because here in the U.P. we’ve been different than downstate. We’ve been in person most of the year. At Houghton there were three times that I personally went virtually.”

Zei said once was in September for a 2-week pause. Houghton went virtual for three days in October because of a substitute teacher shortage. The final time were the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas when high schools went virtual, but elementary schools were still face-to-face.

She has adapted a hybrid approach to teaching. While instructing the in-person students, she also streams her class to those at home. She also posts the video of each lecture, for students to review and rewatch.

“It has been overwhelming. Sometimes I feel like I have three full-time jobs. You are teaching your face-to-face students, so that’s your regular job. You also have a subset of students that are virtual. To connect with them you have to teach differently even though the content is the same. With recording all the lectures and learning how to upload, sometimes I feel like a television producer.” Zei continued, “So it’s been overwhelming and we’re exhausted, but we’re so happy the kids are back.”

Zei said school administration has an open door policy with teachers. They take their input and present it to the health department to inform decisions.

“I can say I think the schools have made decisions that have been in the best interest of both our students and our staff,” added Zei.

Marquette Area Public School’s Superintendent, William Saunders issued the following letter to parents and guardians:

Dear Parents and Guardians,

At approximately 10:00 a.m. on April 9, the Governor held a press conference and announced a recommendation for high schools and athletics programs to close/suspend activities for the next two weeks. This was only a recommendation, leaving the decision to local school districts. The announcement came with no warning and leaves little time to make a difficult decision and communicate with families. I spent the remainder of the morning consulting with area superintendents, our Board of Education, Marquette County Health Department, and reviewed our current data. We currently have three active cases reported on our dashboard. 

I believe MAPS faculty and staff have done an outstanding job of providing face to face and virtual education. Our staff, in concert with all our students, have followed safety measures keeping our schools, to the best of our knowledge, free from COVID transmission. We have built in the flexibility for students and families to learn virtually if school feels unsafe or for any health or unrelated reason.

With no data to suggest any transmission of COVID is happening within our walls; with few current active cases on our dashboard; with our local health system not currently strained by COVID, and with a student/parent option for online learning at any time; I have made the decision to keep our high school open for face to face education and continue with athletic participation until the data suggests this isn’t a prudent move.  

I am most proud of the ongoing dedication of our entire staff and the sacrifices they’ve made this year. We would not be where we are today without our supportive parents and community.  We appreciate your continued support for Marquette Area Public Schools.