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Superintendent explains why Lake Orion schools continue in-person classes while many go virtual

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Posted at 4:12 AM, Nov 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-12 07:00:59-05

(WXYZ) — Michigan is setting daily records in coronavirus cases, and this week Michigan announced 50 new school-related outbreaks.

Currently, Oakland County Schools are at risk level E, the highest risk level and that brings more stringent school guidelines. Many districts are reevaluating teaching plans.

Some schools are switching to virtual learning but others are moving ahead with plans for in-person instruction. But how can neighboring districts decide on differing paths?

Berkley, Royal Oak and Farmington schools have paused plans to phase in in-person learning. Other schools including Bloomfield Hills, Pontiac, Rochester and Clarkston have moved back to virtual learning. Many cite guidance from the state and the county.

"The Virus is real and we are taking it very seriously. And that's part of our own planning and preparation," Lake Orion Schools Superintendent Ben Kirby said.

Lake Orion welcomed the return of middle and high schools student this week even with rising COVID-19 cases.

Safety measures include social distancing, alternating attendance days, cohorting, health checks and working with health leaders.

"They basically have said if you're moving forward with in-person, continue to move forward with in-person," Kirby said. "They continue to share with us that the transmissions and schools through their contact tracing is very, very low."

Kirby said he spends a great majority of every day managing the virus. That includes meeting with other superintendents and epidemiologists every week. He said the return of elementary students a few weeks ago shows families in his district are up for the challenge.

"Things have gone really well, you know, like I said, I've been extremely impressed with how serious the families and the students have taken the app," he said.

Families in the district support the return to in-person learning by 80%. While Lake Orion may stand out from many neighboring districts like Pontiac, Rochester and Clarkston, Kirby said safety is still his driving force.

"f the community really was pushing for In-person learning, and the health division was saying you know what you guys, there's just nothing that you can do to provide a safe environment and not a good idea we're out," he said.

As for other districts reverting to virtual learning or pausing in-person plans, each has to decide what's best for their community.

Kirby said the guidance he's getting says schools can be a safer place for children compared to the rest of the community because of mitigation strategies and the fact that those strategies are enforced.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Michigan, a timeline of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Southeast Michigan, and links to more information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC and the WHO.

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

Visit our The Rebound Detroit, a place where we are working to help people impacted financially from the coronavirus. We have all the information on everything available to help you through this crisis and how to access it.