Staffing shortage, unreliable internet service force West Michigan school to cancel classes for a week

NEWAYGO, MI – Newaygo Public Schools will be closed Tuesday, Nov. 9, through Monday, Nov. 15, due to staffing shortages across the district.

Superintendent Jeff Wright told MLive Tuesday the district could not remain open this week because there were too many school staff out due to COVID-19, seasonal illnesses and other personal reasons. He declined to provide MLive with an exact number of school staff who are out.

The district was forced to cancel classes altogether instead of pivoting to virtual instruction because of the lack of reliable internet connectivity in Newaygo, which is mostly rural, Wright told MLive.

“Many of our families don’t have access to reliable internet service or broadband high-speed enough to service some of the households in our community,” he said.

Wright first announced the school closures in a message to families posted on Facebook Monday. The initial message did not explain exactly why the district was closing.

“There are several factors that go into making a decision of this nature and we try to keep the best interest of students and staff in the forefront,” Wright wrote in Monday’s message. “I recognize that this is a major inconvenience for you and I am sorry for this situation.”

After receiving questions from numerous parents about why the district closed, Wright sent out another message on Tuesday with further explanation. The letter, posted to the district’s Facebook page, explained that the district was “unable to sufficiently staff our buildings to meet the needs of our students.”

The district is using five of its state-allotted emergency days, often referred to as “snow days,” to cancel school. Wright said the district was unable to count this week as official instructional days because there wasn’t enough staff available to maintain student attendance.

“It’s a state requirement that we have to have 180 days of instruction,” Wright told MLive. “And in order to count the days of instruction, you have to have 75% of your students in attendance. With our staff shortages, and the coverage that we were not going to be able to provide, we were not going to make that 75% threshold, and therefore the days wouldn’t count.”

Schools across the state of Michigan and nationwide have struggled with staff shortages during the coronavirus pandemic. Wright said his district has been unable to pull together enough substitutes to fill the gaps when school staff call in sick.

It is unknown whether or not the district will have to make up the missed days, Wright said. That’s up to the state legislature.

Families can pick up sack lunches at Newaygo High School from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, according to the letter.

Elementary parent teacher conferences have been rescheduled for Thursday, Nov. 18 and Monday, Nov. 22.

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