Marion Community Schools (MCS) dismissed two schools early on Friday due to rising numbers of sick teachers and issued future eLearning days in response to the pandemic.

McCulloch Junior High School and Marion High School declared an early dismissal for 12 p.m. on Friday due to a lack of teaching staff as a result of positive COVID tests and quarantines. Superintendent Keith Burke stated that the number of students that have either tested positive for COVID or are being quarantined is nearing 450. However, the lack of teachers due to COVID was the overarching cause for the early dismissal.

The early dismissal was a compromise for the issue as Burke did not receive the numbers until after students boarded the buses. The schools ensured that students were fed breakfast and lunch before dismissal.

“Frankly, if I would have gotten the numbers a little bit earlier, we might not have even came in today,” said Burke. “We didn’t want to put our parents in such a bind where our kids were on the bus, and we turn around and send the bus home.”

“(On Thursday), the elementary and intermediate schools and the preschool were impacted. Our numbers at the high school and junior high were actually really, really good,” said Burke. “The problem we are running into with COVID right now is that it’s so fluid. It’s day-by-day and minute-by-minute. You can be doing really, really good and then it explodes.”

Burke expressed that his priority is to have students remain in school as often as possible, but in the case of COVID, elearning was the best alternative to solve the issue.

“My opinion is that I want to keep kids in school every single chance that I can,” said Burke. “When you have a chance where you don’t have the number of adults to supervise the children and give them the education they need, you have to make tough decisions.”

The choice to switch to eLearning was a difficult decision for Burke because of the lack of nonverbal communication between the instructors and the students. However, Burke expressed that the teachers are becoming skilled in asynchronous and synchronous online learning.

MCS is recognizing the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday and will be instituting an eLearning day on Tuesday to allow for the five-day quarantine requirements recommended by the Center for Disease Control. Burke related that the goals for the school will be to return to in-person classes on Wednesday, but the schools will individually assess the health and safety of the students and faculty before making a final decision.

“If we can’t provide an environment that is safe both with COVID and the number of adults, we would not put our kids in a bad situation,” said Burke. “Our hope is that on Wednesday we will have a lot of those people back, but we will play it by ear. We are not going to jump in. We are going to continue to monitor our data and look at things.”

Burke thanked the parents of MCS for their cooperation and understanding of the decisions made by MCS officials in response to the rising number of COVID cases in the community.

“We realize that it’s difficult for our parents. I appreciate everything they’ve done to support us. Any decision we make is in the best interest of our kids’ safety,” said Burke. “I know it’s tough. We are going to do everything we can to keep our kids safe. Every decision we make is going to be about them and what’s best for them, but we know it’s tough on parents.”

Burke stated that the virus has infected vaccinated and unvaccinated members of the school system, and the unpredictability is one of the biggest issues in dealing with the virus.

MCS issued eLearning days through Tuesday, and parents are encouraged to continually check for updates for Wednesday’s schedule.

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