By Jon King /

UPDATE: According to a communication from Howell Superintendent Erin MacGregor, Highlander Way Middle School will be closed on Friday due to “staffing constraints”. The school will transition to remote learning on January 18th through the 21st, with a plan to return to in-person learning on Monday, January 24th.


COVID clusters have been identified at two schools in the Howell Public Schools district, prompting a strong recommendation that masks be worn by students and staff for the next two weeks.

According to a letter sent Wednesday to the administration team at Highlander Way Middle School in Howell, Livingston County Medical Director Dr. Juan Marquez said that the health department had identified multiple COVID-19 cases at the school, which “likely represent multiple clusters.” Dr. Marquez goes on to say that unless universal masking policies are in place, “School exclusions (or enrollment into the alternate school attendance program if applicable) should resume”. The letter is posted below.

Howell Schools Communications Director Tom Gould confirmed the letter for WHMI and added that LCHD has also identified a cluster at Southwest Elementary.

Livingston County school districts, including Howell, have resisted putting mask mandates into effect and instead have taken advantage of an alternate plan put forward by the Livingston County Health Department (LCHD) allowing students to avoid quarantine if they have no symptoms and have not tested COVID positive.

A message sent by Highlander Way Assistant Principal Julie Morrish to parents stated that because of the cluster, the LCHD “strongly recommends that all students and staff wear a face covering for at least the next two weeks. Additionally, they recommend that all students and staff consider being tested for COVID-19 to identify all associated cases.”

Morrish also stated that to help limit the possibility of additional cases within the school, “some students will be required to complete a standard five-day at-home quarantine” based on the date of their last exposure. “Students affected by this will be notified of the need to quarantine,” she said. “As always, if your child is showing any signs of illness, they cannot attend school. By keeping students home when they are showing signs of illness, we can significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses in our school. LCHD has shared with the district that in many cases, what a family believes to be a cold or allergies, has actually been COVID-19.”

The Michigan Department of Health & Human Services defines a K-12 school-associated cluster as “an educational institution that has been found by their local health department to have multiple cases comprising at least 10% of students, teachers, or staff, within a specified core group OR at least three (3) cases within a specified core group meeting criteria for a probable or confirmed school-associated COVID-19 case with symptom onset or positive test result within 14 days of each other, AND no likely known epidemiologic link to a case outside of the school setting. COVID-19 cases who may have shared exposure on school grounds and are from different households are included. Case counts for school-related outbreaks include those associated with before and after school programs (e.g., school-sponsored sports, etc.).”

Gould said that the LCHD has made the same masking and quarantine recommendations for Southwest. "Again, in line with the procedure approved by LCHD, close contacts of a COVID-19 outbreak will be required to quarantine in accordance with the CDC/MDHHS guidance. At the elementary level this is done at the classroom level."

Courtney Rynkiewicz, the Health Promotion Coordinator for the LCHD, told WHMI that students who are exposed to COVID-19 in the school setting will have the option to stay home through the remainder of their exclusion period or enroll in the Alternate In-person School Attendance program, which allows exposed students to attend school and continue with in-person learning based on the following guidelines:

• Students must wear a properly fitting mask in school and while participating in all school-related activities.

• Every day during the alternate attendance period, parents will receive email and SMS messages with a link to check-in.

• Each check-in, they must perform a daily symptom screening for the student. If symptoms arise, it is recommended the student isolate immediately.

• Parents must perform daily free at-home COVID-19 rapid antigen testing with their student, using at-home test kits provided by their student's school.

Rynkiewicz says the tests take only 15 minutes to perform and that if the student tests positive, "it is recommended the student isolate immediately."