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Interlochen to send students home; TCAPS cancels events as schools start coronavirus prevention

Nancy Deneen
The Interlochen Festival Choir

Interlochen Center for the Arts (ICA) is sending students home as schools and universities across Michigan take precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

No ICA students or staff currently have the disease, but the move is meant to prevent its possible spread. ICA President Trey Devey broke the news to students at a meeting Thursday, which was livestreamed on the academy's website.

"It's an understatement to say that this was not an easy decision, but I believe it's necessary," Devey said. "I hope you understand that all of these difficult decisions were made with your best interest at heart."

ICA students will start leaving as early as Friday and were told to pack as if the term is ending. In the meantime, Devey says instruction will continue online, with a plan for students to hopefully return to campus May 1.

Students from countries that have travel restrictions from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention can stay on Interlochen’s campus for the time being.

Traverse City schools

Traverse City Area Public Schools' (TCAPS) staff are wiping down desks, lockers and door handles regulary to prevent the spread of coronavirus, according to Interim Superintendent Jim Pavelka.
He admits TCAPS, which serves nearly 10,000 students across 300 square miles, is stretched thin with only two nurses serving the health needs of the entire district. Pavelka isn't sure if they have enough resources to address the pandemic, but is optimistic their staff can handle it.
"If we don't have the resources we'll either find the resources or we're gonna cover for lack of resources by the staff that we have," Pavelka said.

Pavelka has daily meetings with TCAPS staff to stay up-to-date on the latest COVID-19 developments, which includes brainstorming how to close the district for an extended period of time if necessary.

Credit Max Johnston / Interlochen Public Radio
Interlochen Public Radio
Sara Bageris teaches third grade at Central Grade School in Traverse City.

He says TCAPS is also following the lead from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office for best practices, like whether or not the district should hold M-STEP testing scheduled for this spring.

In a letter to parents Thursday, TCAPS said it is restricting or cancelling any school events, including sporting events, that have more than 100 people. 

Colleges are cancelling in-person classes

Michigan State University and the University of Michigan-Dearborn have temporarily replaced in-person classes with online alternatives.

Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City hasn't taken that step yet, but spokesperson Diana Fairbanks said they may have to soon.

"For the classes or work that needs to be done in person, we have our technology teams working with faculty and staff to develop solutions in the event that the college would need to close for an extended period of time," Fairbanks said in an email.

However, she says that creates problems for some courses like culinary or welding classes that could be hard to translate to a remote setting.

Melanie Hurst lives in Bellaire and recently took two of her children out of public school because of the coronavirus. She was able to find an online school for her youngest, who is in kindergarten and has respiratory problems, but it wasn't easy.

"It took hours of calling and calling and calling, it was very difficult," Hurst said.

She said many of the online schools she called were already full, although she doesn't know if that is because of concerns over coronavirus. Having her kids at home presents a host of other problems for Hurst, as she relied on free and reduced lunches to feed them during the day.

"So now I have to plan for more food in the house — which is fine — it's just another economic issue with money," Hurst said.

Online classes may only be a temporary alternative

While many teachers and parents may turn to online learning instead of in-person classes, some may not be prepared says Professor David Hua from Ball State, in Indiana. 

Hua, the associate professor of Computer Technology, says online classes are generally meant to be a short-term solution for things like bad weather. If e-learning is used long-term, he says that would require consistent internet access for students and curriculum changes for teachers.

"Teaching and learning that is taking place in the classroom, doesn't automatically transition effectively into that online environment," Hua said. "I'm not against e-learning by any means, I'm just saying there's a lot to think about."

Max came to IPR in 2017 as an environmental intern. In 2018, he returned to the station as a reporter and quickly took on leadership roles as Interim News Director and eventually Assignment Editor. Before joining IPR, Max worked as a news director and reporter at Michigan State University's student radio station WDBM. In 2018, he reported on a Title IX dispute with MSU in his story "Prompt, Thorough and Impartial." His work has also been heard on Michigan Radio, WDBM and WKAR in East Lansing and NPR.