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Week-long Thanksgiving break for schools goes beyond COVID-19, mental health concerns

School districts including Fruitport, Ravenna, Orchard View, Oakridge and Muskegon extended Thanksgiving break over mental health, COVID-19 and staffing concerns.

MUSKEGON COUNTY, Mich. — Several public school districts in Muskegon and Ottawa counties are just beginning what will be a week-long Thanksgiving break. The districts including Muskegon, Oakridge, Orchard View, Ravenna and Fruitport canceled school on Monday and Tuesday over concerns for rising COVID-19 cases and the mental health of students and staff.

The latest district to extend the Thanksgiving break into a full week away from school was Oakridge. That decision was made final at the end of the day on Friday.

Oakridge Schools Superintendent Tom Livezey explained in a letter to parents the district was concerned about having an appropriate number of staff to hold school on Monday and Tuesday.

"On Friday we actually had 10 classrooms that did not have a substitute teacher in them," Livezey said. "It was the substitute shortage that was getting to us, and we just weren't going to be able to operate schools. We need more people who are interested in this profession, from guest teachers, to classroom teachers, to counselors and psychologists." 

For Oakridge, the decision to close on Monday and Tuesday was also in part due to the domino effect caused by neighboring school districts closing.

"Oakridge has dozens of employees that are residents of these districts with no place for their students," Livezey wrote in their message to parents.

School district superintendents in Muskegon County said the decision to take the full week off was a difficult one to make. It's why several waited until the last week to finalize plans. 

In Muskegon Public Schools all seven school buildings will be deep-cleaned during the break. That process started Monday with staff from Enviro-Clean systematically disinfecting classrooms, hallways, cafeterias and restrooms.

School districts are treating the two extra days off just like snow days. Those would need to be made up only if a district exceeds the six allowable snow days for the school year. 

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