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Facing staff shortages, TCAPS reinstates masks and extends virtual learning

Max Copeland

Traverse City Area Public Schools trustees issued a new mask mandate at their meeting on Monday night and extended virtual learning for middle and high school students until at least Tuesday, January, 18.

The TCAPS board unanimously passed the policy citing concerns about COVID spread and staffing shortages.

The board voted to keep the mandate in effect until the Leelanau-Benzie Health Department no longer recommends universal masking.

About 100 people showed up with speakers split for and against required mask-wearing.

Some people accused teachers of deliberately calling out of work in protest of the district’s optional masking policy. On Thursday, 93 staff were absent, district superintendent John VanWagoner said.

“TCAPS right now doesn’t have a COVID problem in the schools. It has a shortage problem of people not coming in for work,” said a parent of two TCAPS students, Rob Summers.

Some teachers disputed those characterizations and said schools closed not just because of illness, but also a longstanding teacher shortage, and lack of available substitutes.

“Some [teachers who were out last week] have COVID, some are ill with no access to testing,” said TCAPS teacher Jody Mackey. “Scores of kids are at home sick, without testing, many in quarantine.”

Facial coverings will be required again starting at the elementary schools on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the middle and high schools will continue with remote learning until at least next Tuesday.

The board says the superintendent has discretion to call snow days if the district can’t maintain staffing.

Max Copeland is the local weekday host of All Things Considered on Interlochen Public Radio and the producer of The Up North Lowdown, IPR’s weekly news podcast.