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Opinion: Want open schools? Fight COVID outside the classroom

As superintendents, we knew going into this school year that it would be unlike any other due to the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has become painstakingly clear over the last year the critical role schools play in our communities.

School leaders want students back in the classroom. But we also have had to make sure we are able to follow the safety protocols outlined by the health experts. As schools across Wayne County have opened their doors to face-to-face instruction — some beginning last fall, and most by March 1 — we have seen educators going above and beyond to make sure school is a safe place to be.

The school safety protocols have worked — in schools that are open, we have seen little to no spread of the virus taking place in our classrooms.

Make no mistake, students and staff members are quarantining. Most recently, several high schools have even had to close due to the number of students and staff being quarantined. However, this is not a result of spread inside of schools. It is by and large due to socialization that’s taking place outside of school, and being brought into the buildings.

The safety protocols provided by the health experts require contact tracing and quarantining to address safety when cases come from outside school. They are working.

Of course, as superintendents, we rely heavily on the medical experts to chart the course for our schools. We have kept in close contact and continue to receive daily guidance from the Wayne County Public Health Division and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Schools have been among the safest spaces to be amid COVID-19. All Wayne County teachers and school employees who have chosen to receive the vaccine have been able to do so, for a total of more than 15,000 teachers and staff. But we know that transmission is taking place outside of the classrooms and in the community, and we need residents of every age to be diligent in stopping the spread of COVID-19. 

While we are doing all we can within the schools to make this happen, we all know that we can only be successful if everyone in the community is actively engaged. We need students, parents and community members to practice safe health protocols to limit people bringing COVID into schools.

Additionally, if you have children ages 16-18, please consider having them vaccinated at one of many available locations.

This collective effort is important, especially now, as we look forward to year-end school activities that we want our students and parents to enjoy and participate in. One of our greatest fears is that the community spread of COVID-19 will force our schools to close again and return to full-time remote learning.

Additionally, we certainly know our students don’t want to see another year of canceled senior proms and graduations, or miss their graduation because they are in quarantine. Sadly, that could be a reality if these trends continue.

It’s critical that we maintain the same diligence we had a year ago, as we are still in the midst of a very real global pandemic.

We need every single student and family to do their part. To keep schools open, we need all residents to stay vigilant.

Randy Liepa is superintendent of Wayne RESA. Terry Dangerfield is superintendent of Lincoln Park Public Schools and president of Wayne County School Superintendents Association.