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Schools close indefinitely in Flint, Michigan, students moved to virtual learning contrary to CDC guidance

Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Schoolchildren in Flint, Michigan will be moved to remote learning indefinitely after the school district decided it will not be resuming classes on Jan. 24.

In a notice to parents, district Superintendent Kevelin Jones said the decision was made to shift to "distance learning" in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

"While this decision was not made easily, it is necessary for the greater health of our community," Jones said in a statement posted Wednesday. "We know this is not an easy time for many across our district and we want you to know that you are not alone."

Flint Community Schools were scheduled to reopen after winter break on Jan. 24, but this more recent decision means students will attempt to learn remotely at home until further notice.

The announcement cited state data that shows the COVID-19 testing positivity rate in Genesee County is 38.4%. The county reported 1,232 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 weekly.

Michigan is experiencing a statewide surge in COVID cases caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant. Over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, the state reported a seven-day average of 17,595 new cases, breaking a record.

The seven-day average number of new reported deaths is 107, up from 95 a week ago, according to Michigan Live.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines state that places with a positive rate exceeding 10% are areas at risk of "high transmission." The CDC recommends that people in areas of high transmission wear face masks in public, indoor settings.

"To lower the transmission number, and to keep it low, we must actively continue distance learning until further notice," Jones said.

However, the decision to close schools for in-person instruction goes against the recommendations of the CDC, which the agency says are based in scientific study.

"Evidence suggests that many K–12 schools that have strictly implemented prevention strategies have been able to safely open for in-person instruction and remain open," the CDC says. The federal government has provided recommendations for schools that wish to stay open on how to do so safely, including the widespread use of face masks and social distancing.

Even in areas of high COVID transmission, the CDC says K-12 schools should be the last settings to close after all other prevention measures in the community have been employed and the first to reopen when they can do so safely. In the absence of a city-wide pandemic lockdown, the CDC says schools should be open if businesses and other public places are open too.

The CDC in recent months has prioritized keeping schools open, embracing "test-to-stay" policies in December to keep kids in classrooms. These policies let students exposed to someone with COVID-19 stay in school as long as they test negative for the virus.

Remote learning is widely acknowledged to be harmful for students, which is why reopening schools has been a priority for public health officials. Studies have shown virtual school resulted in "significant" academic learning loss throughout school closures during the pandemic. A study published by the CDC last March found that the mental health and wellness of children and their parents suffered without in-person interactions with teachers and peers in the classroom.

Jones acknowledged that virtual learning has left many students behind during a Board of Education meeting last week, but said remote learning was necessary for the safety of students and teachers.

“We want to get scholars back into the buildings, but it is just not safe,” Jones said. “... We are going to be catching up, educationally, for a while anyway. Most people do not understand that ... We are going to have to catch up, but the world has not ended. We are going to keep going and keep educating.”

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