After a Week-Long Closure, the Future of Learning at Skyline Remains Uncertain

On January 14th, Skyline moved to remote, virtual learning due to a dramatic rise in Covid-19 case numbers. This rise resulted in elevated student absences and staff shortages, necessitating the week-long move to remote, virtual learning. Despite a return to in-person learning, the future of learning at Skyline remained uncertain.  

“Our numbers [had] dropped down, not below 75% but pretty close to 75% for student attendance on some days. Casey Elmore, Skyline SLC principal, said after the closure. 

“The bigger concern now has been staff attendance and having enough people to be able to staff the building.” 

“We want to make sure that if we are in person that we can continue to have a safe environment and a quality educational environment,” Elmore said, which at times has been untenable. 

In order for a day to qualify with the State of Michigan as a school day, Skyline must have at least 75% attendance. While not below 75%, attendance approached 75% on some days. Staffing attendance was of even more concern for the administration.

“We had quite a few days where we were barely able to cover staff,” Elmore said. This is the result of a confluence of staff illness, staff in isolation waiting for a Covid-19 test result, staff needing to stay home and care for a loved one, and normative illness and absence.  All these factors made it difficult to fully staff the building on certain days. 

To remedy this, Skyline now has 7 building substitutes. These substitutes come to Skyline proactively, every day. In addition, Skyline continues to use Frontline, a program that connects substitutes to schools, to cover other staffing shortages. Some positions still remain vacant from the beginning of the year as well. 

Not all staff shortages are equal, though. Certain positions are more essential to school operations than others. Priority is placed on classroom coverage. If support staff, such as community assistants , teaching assistants and office professionals are absent, likely school operations can continue. Teacher absence, however, would disrupt school if the position could not be filled by a substitute. 

To reduce transmission in Skyline, keep students and staff safe, and remain in-person, Skyline continues to follow public health guidance and has made new recommendations to students, families and staff. 

Consistent with CDC guidelines, endorsed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Washtenaw County Health Department, quarantine and close contact protocols have changed. The new quarantine policy allows students to return from quarantine on the 6th day, regardless of vaccination status. 

 “Students can return if symptoms have subsided and there are no symptoms for at least 24 hours, they are feeling ok, and ideally they would have a negative Covid test before returning as well,” Elmore said. “At this point there is an option to return on day 6, with no symptoms” she added.

“If you do return on day 6-10 you have to wear one of the respirator masks, you have to agree to wear that at all times while around people, “ Elmore continued. If a student does not comply with these guidelines, they will be asked to go home until they can cooperate with the new masking protocol. 

An element of the in-person return to school has been a new emphasis on high quality mask wearing instead of cloth masks. 

With these updated close contact and quarantine protocols, the community’s reaction to this transition to virtual, remote school has been mixed. While many community members are very thankful and appreciative of the closure, others have felt frustrated and angry. ”I think, just based on where we are at with this pandemic right now, no matter what decision you make, that’s going to be the case,”  Elmore said.

“That’s kind of where we are getting it, from all sides. All sides.”    

The data suggests a massive decrease in COVID cases from the beginning of 2022 and brings hope that the Skyline community can return to some level of normalcy in the near future.

Washtenaw County Health Department, 2021