Thursday, December 17, 2020

One Size Doesn’t Fit All for Michigan School Closure Policies

Note: The following op-ed ran in print and online in The Detroit News Thursday, December 17, 2020. Our accrediting agency, the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), supports the lawsuit filed by Michigan Association of Nonpublic Schools (MANS) to help protect the freedom of private schools and support the responsible reopening of nonpublic high schools in Michigan that have appropriate health and safety protocols.  I have been coordinating with their regional director Jeff Mattner and others at ACSI in efforts to support these actions in our state, including writing this Op-Ed in hopes of benefiting Cavalry and all other private schools in our area. 

 One Size Doesn’t Fit All for Michigan School Closure Policies

Just a week before Thanksgiving, one of our seniors at Calvary Christian School, where I am superintendent, lost both of her grandparents. Under normal circumstances, the entire school community would have personally come alongside this student, offering fellowship, comfort, and support. This is what schools do as mini communities, and nonpublic religious schools consider this an inherent part of their outreach to students and families. 

Calvary, like many religious nonpublic schools, has gone the extra mile during this pandemic to meet the needs of their families for academic rigor in a medically safe community setting. Michigan could be an ally with other states demonstrating responsible school openings by returning such decisions to the local level. Districts and nonpublic school systems know their own communities and the effectiveness of the board-approved protocols within their buildings. 

The CDC reports that mental health visits by children aged 5-11 have increased 24% over 2019, while such visits by kids aged 12-17 shot up 31%. The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP), as recently as its August 19 update, “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” 

Is it really necessary and in the best interest of Michigan families to close all high schools regardless of the different realities from district to district? For instance, the rates of COVID-19 infection in Catholic schools in Michigan’s largest cities of Detroit and Lansing are currently at a remarkably low 1.1% and 1.6% (Detroit public schools recently were near a 5% rate). Additionally, NPR complimented our own state by citing a University of Michigan medical school expert at an October briefing. His view? "The data so far are not indicating that schools are a super spreader site." 

While politicians and their powerful political allies force all schools (or certain grade levels) to stay closed when evidence shows schools can be healthy and safe environments, our fundamental question is this: Why do nonpublic sector schools and their teachers have no voice at all in this matter when, in fact, the majority of them have a strong record of success, they strive to honor the protocols from the Michigan Department of Health, and have modeled a cooperative spirit throughout this process? 

We realize that each nonpublic school is different, but they share many similarities in their ability to manage the current situation in safe and effective ways. It is the existence of such variables that prompts us to appeal for restoration of the freedom for nonpublic schools, and even school districts or cities for that matter, to act in the best interest of the children and families they serve in the context of their own resources, rather than be subject to statewide edicts. 

Finally, we have been following a similar case regarding nonpublic Christian schools in Kentucky and recognize the recent Supreme Court case in New York that blocked the enforcement of restrictions on churches and religious gatherings. In fact, we feel that this situation in Michigan clearly has to do with freedom of religion and we are united in spirit with all religious nonpublic schools in Michigan regardless of affiliation. 

Let nonpublic religious schools do what they do best: serve their wider communities with solid academics in a safe environment. Let’s quarantine politics from the compelling data that favors in-person instruction. Let’s return such decisions to the local level, which allow nonpublic schools to meet the needs of students and their families who often make great sacrifices to provide the education they believe is best for their children. 

Tom Kapanka,  Head of School Calvary Christian Schools, Fruitport, MI

If you go to the op-ed piece in The Detroit News and click on the comments, you'll see someone named Missy_S has my back in response to an ill-informed critic. He certainly does not know me or our board or the highly qualified "Back2School" team that wrote our protocols. Nor does he know our office staff who communicate with our local county health officials regularly. I'm not sure at the moment who "Missy_S" is, but her defense of CCS is greatly appreciated.

"The last thing children in schools need is to have the incompetent members of local school boards and their stooge superintendents making life and death decisions. They are not healthcare professionals and in many cases, they are nothing but fanatical political hacks with ambitions beyond protecting students."
The incompetents on school boards are basically spineless and will respond to incoherent demands of screeching parents who want to impose influence at all cost. 

This simply is not the case with the author of this piece.

Mr. Kapanka is the administrator of the school in Fruitport and does an amazing job. He is not a school board member or "stooge superintendent" as you implied that is out of touch with the challenges that our current health crisis has presented to the education system. He and the staff and the school board are not spineless and do not give in to the "incoherent demands of screeching parents."

There are several healthcare providers (doctors and nurses) with children in the school on the COVID preparedness panel that develop EDUCATED safety protocols. That is what this piece is about. They have acted in the best interest of the families and students and their safety even at the cost of losing said families that didn't agree with those decisions. 

I understand that the COVID pandemic is serious, however, the more serious situations facing our students is their mental health from being isolated for so long and a lack of community. That is what those of us who chose a nonpublic school option want back - the community to support our students in a safe environment without the politics involved. 

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