By Jon King /

A rising count of confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 is forcing one local school to return to all-remote learning this week, while superintendents are reminding their communities that mitigation strategies like mask-wearing and social distancing are still important if they want to keep schools fully open, including athletics.

In his communication to parents on Friday, Brighton High School Principal Gavin Johnson addressed the issue of students and staff having to be quarantined because of COVID. Johnson noted that the past week was their “busiest week of the year” when it came to quarantines, and while he admitted he did not exactly know why, he did offer some ideas, saying that he was “speaking honestly and directly with you. Not politically”, pointing out that some in the community, “including some of our students, do not think Covid is serious. But they do think quarantines are serious, especially when it affects athletics or weekend plans”

A COVID quarantine has currently grounded the Brighton High School Varsity and Freshman basketball teams, which are unable to play or practice until this Friday.

Johnson said the reality he deals with is that a positive case of COVID will result in a quarantine. “This is not my fault, not BHS’ fault. It IS the reality we are living in and I cannot ignore it or take blame for it. I guess I am just trying to say continue to do a few things, if you and your students want school to stay open, want athletics to occur, and want end of the year events to happen: Stay distanced at BHS and at home as much as possible, wear masks, and keep your kids home if they are not feeling well. Do NOT allow your student to attend BHS if they have cold or flu symptoms, even if you do not believe Covid is real. Because the resulting quarantines are, and I have no authority to change that. Do NOT lie, keep quiet, or mislead about Covid symtoms, or tests, or illness.”

Johnson ended his message by saying he realizes many parents may want to reply to his message with their opinions, but he asked that they refrain. “I get those every time I send a quarantine note home and it is wearing me down. I have to do this job, this way, right now.”

That same frustration was also expressed by Pinckney Superintendent Rick Todd in his weekly YouTube message, in which he noted that their district currently has 320 students quarantined. "When these things happen, the domino effect is just unreal that starts happening and that’s the contact tracing, that’s just kind of taking off layer after layer. It’s been a lot of hard work on our staff here. It’s been a tremendous amount of work throughout the year, but also these last couple weeks. All I can continue to do is plead is to try and make the best of this as possible, especially when we’re approaching Spring Break. There is concern around that. There’s concern about the new variant that has made its way into Livingston County. My hunch is that we’re seeing the impacts of that, because it seems like things are spreading a little quicker than they have in the past. So, we’re going to continue to do what we need to do here at school, but in the end we have to respond to what’s happening outside the school, which impacts all of us at one point or another. So let’s continue to work together and remain united through this. So let’s continue working as a Pirate family."

Meanwhile, St. Patrick School in Brighton has gone to all virtual learning this week for its 4th through 8th grade students, while Jr. Kindergarten through 3rd Grade are still in person. Principal Carley Dunphey noted in her weekly message that just as they were beginning to draft a plan to begin phasing-out some of their COVID procedures and protocols, they were hit with more positive cases in two days then they have had the entire school year, noting that as of Sunday, they had eight confirmed student cases and one confirmed staff member. “The positive cases are in grades 4, 6, and 7 and have resulted in the quarantine of approximately 106 students.”

In Hartland, Superintendent Chuck Hughes said that as of last Wednesday, they had 235 students and staff in quarantine. The number of students under quarantine is not known for the Fowlerville or Howell districts, although both are indicating confirmed and probable cases of COVID.

Huron Valley Schools, meanwhile, reports 191 students and staff currently in quarantine.

The news that hundreds of students across multiple districts are in quarantine comes as the rate of in-school transmission remains relatively low. While no Livingston County school was listed as of Sunday on the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services website, as of Monday afternoon, there were four schools listed as having an outbreak; St. Patrick’s School with 6, Brighton High School with 3, Pinckney High School with 2 and Navigator Upper Elementary in Pinckney with 2. An outbreak is identified as when, “two (2) or more COVID-19 cases who may have shared exposure on school grounds and are from different households.” So while the rate of COVID being spread on school grounds or during school activities remains relatively low, the fact that the virus continues to infect people in the community still has an effect on local schools, with the possibility that some may have to curtail activities if it continues to rise.

The Livingston County Health Department notes that any student or staff member who comes in close contact with a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 is advised to quarantine for at least 14 days after the last date of contact. They are not supposed to return to school until they have completed the quarantine period and are showing no symptoms.