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Some West Michigan schools shift to remote learning as cases, quarantines mount

Just this week alone, a handful of schools have closed their campuses.

A number of West Michigan schools have recently made the temporary switch to remote learning, in many cases due to the strain caused by staff being sent home to quarantine after being in close contact with someone who has coronavirus. 

At Grant Public Schools in Newaygo County, Superintendent Brett Zuver sent a letter home to parents Monday indicating that middle school students would switch to remote learning for the next week. 

It's the second time that the district has closed a campus as a result of COVID-19. The first happened back in early October when the district had at least 10 positive cases, but this time, Zuver said, it's more so about a lack of available staff. 

"It has been an incredible challenge all year long to find substitute teachers and we are faced right now with finding several each day for the next week and a half," Zuver wrote in the letter. 

Zuver said Wednesday that finding substitutes is a problem that's only been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

RELATED: Coronavirus updates, Nov. 11: State reports over 6,000 daily cases, 42 deaths

"It's really, really challenging," Zuver said. "It's not just teachers, we've even run into this issue some with our transportation department workload. We're not running buses today or tomorrow because we've got some issues with drivers not being able to report."

Of the district's roughly 1,700 students, Zuver says less than a third opted for the remote learning option. But at the time of the last campus closure, there were over 100 students quarantined at a time due to close contacts.

"Our staff has been great at Grant. They've been fantastic in being flexible and willing to do whatever it takes, because we know how important face-to-face instruction is for our students and how badly we want our kids here," he said. "So, we'll continue to do the absolute best we can."

As cases surge and contact tracing efforts fall behind, especially in West Michigan, districts are increasingly concerned about the possibility of spread inside their buildings. 

View the state's data on school-related COVID-19 outbreaks

On Tuesday, Kellogsville Public Schools sent a letter home to its families regarding the closure of all campuses until Nov. 30 due to an increased number of students and staff with COVID-19 like symptoms. 

On Wednesday, both Zeeland Public Schools and North Muskegon Public Schools announced they would be moving to remote learning through Nov. 30, as well. 

In the letter home to families, ZPS wrote that "each building is experiencing numerous classes without substitute teachers and other staffing gaps that cannot be filled." 

Kenowa Hills Public Schools has yet to close any of its campuses, but in a letter sent home to parents last week, the district asked families to consider switching to remote learning. According to the district's COVID-19 dashboard, two students and one staff members tested positive for the virus in the last 24 hours. 

"Our classrooms were never built for this pandemic or any pandemic for that matter," said Gerald Hopkins, the district's superintendent. "We can't have six feet of social distancing, so whenever we do have a positive case, it does impact other other students and possibly staff as well."

The district is now asking for volunteers to take part in remote learning, if they are able. 

KHPS has roughly 3,100 students and 169 of them volunteered for virtual learning at the start of school, Hopkins said, and most of those students intend on coming back in person in the next trimester. 

"The one thing that we hear from many of our families is that they understand the risks associated with being in school, they understand that their child or children could be impacted by being a close contact, but they want them in school," Hopkins said.

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