Two local doctors are recommending Tawas Area Schools, including Tawas Area High School, pictured above, be open this fall to in-person instruction. The school board made no decision on the recommendations at its July 13 meeting.

TAWAS CITY – At the request of Tawas Area School (TAS) Board President Anne Freel, two local physicians remotely attended the TAS Board of Education meeting on July 13 to offer guidance on the medical issues related to the opening of the schools for in-person learning this fall. 

Tawas Area Schools have been closed to in-person instruction since March pursuant to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jo Studley-May, M.D., pediatrician and chief of staff at Ascension St. Joseph Hospital in Tawas City, and Emily L. Kloska, D.O., family practice physician at Oscoda Health Park, both cited studies which indicate that children are less susceptible to the novel coronavirus, benefit more educationally in a school setting, and recommended that in-person schooling should resume.

“There is an emerging body of literature to suggest that children are less susceptible to infection to COVID than are adults,” Dr. Studley-May said. “There is a lower prevalence in the pediatric population, and children who are exposed are less likely to become infected,” she added with the stipulation, “if they do become infected, their symptoms tend to be less serious.” 

Studley-May continued, saying that children with multi-system inflammatory syndrome have a high recovery rate, and that the risk of transmission from children to adults in their households appears to be lower.

“Schools do not appear to have played a major role in the transmission of COVID-19 to this point,” she added. “In keeping with the recommendations of the American Academy for Pediatrics (AAP), we strongly advocate that all school policy considerations should start with the goal of having students physically present in school,” Studley-May concluded.

Dr. Kloska, who according to Freel has three children enrolled in Tawas Area Schools, stressed the importance of in-person learning, especially for elementary school students. 

“As parents and physicians caring for children in our community, we feel that it is important to offer a well-designed safe option of in-person schooling, as well as a virtual option for those families more comfortable with at-home learning and have the resources to do so,” Kloska said, adding, “we do know that some schools have brought forth the idea of a hybrid model of part-time school and part-time distance learning, and while this may work at the middle or high school level, we feel this actually increases risk for elementary students, as it puts parents in the position of potentially using day care, and increasing the cohort of kids and caregivers that each student is exposed to.” 

Kloska went on to outline many other concerns, including “economic consequences of parents forced to stay home to provide care,” loss of food and security, and educational and developmental harms to children. “We have genuine concerns about the well-being of our children based on what we are seeing and hearing in our offices,” Kloska said.

Studley-May highlighted several recommendations from the AAP and the CDC. “We cannot stress enough frequent and effective hand washing, cough etiquette, and sanitation measures,” she said. “Screening for illness prior to boarding the school bus and appropriate signage about hygiene and social distancing would be beneficial to all.” 

Dr. Studley-May suggested that students remain in the same classrooms whenever possible, with teachers moving from room to room as needed. She added that three feet of distance between students who are wearing masks in the classroom would alleviate some of the concerns about space in the school. Studley-May also suggested that teachers, especially in the younger grades, wear face shields so that students could see their facial expressions while in class.

The pediatrician said that there will be other illnesses in the classroom during the school year, and that it is important to discern which illnesses and exposures require staying out of school. “We think it is important to approach the upcoming school year with an open mind. We must be flexible and willing to refine our plan as needed,” advised Dr. Studley-May.

The July 13 meeting was the first for new Trustee Ami Edmonds, who stepped in to fill the opening on the board vacated when former TAS Board President Jim Bacarella resigned to devote more time to his duties as the new Iosco County prosecutor. A 1998 graduate of Tawas Area High School, Edmonds is a lifetime resident of the Tawas Area, and has been active in the community, volunteering with the Tawas ELKS Lodge, working with local Alternative Education (AEA) students, and the Juvenile Enhanced Accountability Program (JEAP), as well as the Tawas Sports Boosters. Edmonds is a medical professional with over 23 years of healthcare experience, including 16 with the St. Joseph Health System.

After hearing from the doctors, the board still had to deal with a full agenda, approving the hiring of four new teachers, accepting the resignation/retirement of a high school social worker, purchasing Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), and deciding on graduation events.

High School Social Worker and Counselor Mary Beth Shearer, Ed.S., LMSW, who spent 30 years with the Michigan public school system including 14 years with Tawas Area Schools, informed the District of her intent to retire as of June 30.

Kelli Rau was hired to teach third grade at Clara Bolen Elementary School. Rau is a graduate of Michigan State University with a Bachelor of Science degree, and a Master’s degree in youth development.

Wendi Paulson was approved for hire as the new middle school Title Teacher. A graduate of Saginaw Valley State University with a bachelor’s degree in Education, Paulson also holds a Master’s degree in E-learning and technology. She has 13 years teaching experience, most recently in West Branch.

The new middle school Certified English and Math teacher will be Meaghan Martinez, replacing Tera Albert, who resigned to take a position closer to her home. Martinez earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from Central Michigan University, and spent ten years teaching in Las Vegas prior to substitute teaching in Gladwin last year.

Veronica Schlosser will be the new fifth grade teacher, a position vacated by the departure of Tim Webb. A graduate of the University of Michigan-Flint with a Bachelor’s degree in elementary education, Schlosser also earned a Master’s degree in teaching from SVSU. She also holds credentials in science and social studies, and is a K-12 reading specialist with 26 years of teaching experience.

Celia Wixtrom was hired as a special education assistant at Clara Bolen Elementary School. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and has cared for children with specific needs for several years.

TAS Superintendent John Klinger reported positive news out of Lansing with respect to the 2020-2021 budget. Although not yet finalized, additional support of more than $500,000 is possible, along with a possible increase in CARES Act restricted funding, which Klinger said may help offset earlier projected shortfalls.

By a vote of 6-1, the board approved a plan to replace the district’s special education leadership vacancy with a shared employee from IRESA. Trustee Greg VanderVeen cast the sole dissenting vote.

Purchase of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) was approved by a 7-0 vote. A resolution to permit students in sixth grade and above to choose their own masks for comfort, following CDC guidelines was passed 6-1, with President Anne Freel casting the sole “no” vote.

Since a formal ceremony will not be held for Senior Awards Night, the board approved unanimously a plan to recognize student achievements through newspaper articles, the school website and on Facebook.

By separate 5-2 votes, the board approved the off-campus Project Graduation celebration, as well as the formal graduation ceremony on July 24. Freel and Trustee Connie O’Connor dissented, expressing concerns about health issues related to the public gatherings.