APPLEGATE: Niles Community Schools district welcomes back students and families

The first day of school is only a few days away, Tuesday, August 31, and the teachers and staff at Niles Community Schools cannot wait to see our students and families again. While I am sure there are many things on your mind as we approach the beginning of the school year, I want to take this opportunity to share my excitement and pass along key updates regarding the 2021-22 school year.

Over the past several weeks, I have received hundreds of emails and phone calls from our school community regarding vaccinations, testing and masks for the new school year. This feedback reflects a variety of perspectives on the value of mitigation factors, the rights of parents and the role of schools. I appreciate our school community’s openness to provide feedback in a constructive way.

We have a responsibility to provide a safe environment that is conducive to learning and growth in the throes of our current situation with COVID-19. We face many challenges and a high level of uncertainty as we work together to interpret the facts and combat COVID-19. As one expert stated, “The volume of confusing and often misleading and misinterpreted information on the internet and in the media is astounding.” Public health agencies and school systems have specific, albeit limited, powers and duties to impose restrictions under certain circumstances for the protection of health and safety. What I do know for certain is that each of us, regardless of our opinion on these matters, wants to protect our children, provide them with a high-quality education, and see them emotionally fulfilled.

Decisions that impact the health of our school community will be made in conjunction with the Berrien County Health Department and area superintendents. While Niles Community Schools is its own entity, we are interconnected with other communities through work, recreation and shared school services and programs. Therefore, our individual school plans are closely, but not completely, aligned. When new information becomes available, adjustments to our plan may need to be made in collaboration with the BCHD and local school leaders across the County. As a group, we are committed to making sure that the decisions and the recommendations are always informed by the best information available.

Our COVID-19 mitigation strategies and protocols adjust based on the circumstances and guidelines at that time, and we will take measures to ensure that our school community is aware of any changes throughout the year. As you can imagine, the current COVID-19 and Delta Variant situation is ever-changing, and we are reviewing local COVID-19 data and guidance daily. At this time, we strongly recommend and encourage masks be worn during school and on school property. We do not require students, families and staff to receive a COVID-19 vaccination or take a COVID-19 test for the 2021-22 school year. [Note: The only exception is that children must wear masks on the school bus, as mandated by the Department of Transportation.] However, we will continue to work with the BCHD, area superintendents and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to make informed decisions. Our best chance for success is if students, families and staff continue to work together, both at home and at school, to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

From our understanding of COVID-19 and with much of the school community vaccinated, we hope to lower anxieties and minimize distractions and stress as we look ahead towards the new school year. We look forward to seeing you and your family soon. Let’s have a wonderful school year together. Go Vikes!

Dr. Dan Applegate is the superintendent at Niles Community Schools.

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