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Oakland County schools get $30M to reopen during pandemic

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Novi — Oakland County government and school officials gathered Thursday at Novi Middle School to discuss how $30 million in federal relief aid will be allocated to help schools reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pending approval by the Board of Commissioners, the county plans to distribute $28 million in CARES Act funds to support public and charter schools' plans for beginning the school year safely. The county has earmarked another $2 million to hire more than 60 public health nurses to work with schools this fall.

Oakland County Executive David Coulter gives his keynote address at the 2020 Detroit Policy Conference held at Motor City Casino. Coulter, discusses a regional collaboration and a shared vision on how Oakland County can better work in partnership with neighboring counties.

“This is a school year unlike any other we have seen in our lifetime,” Oakland County Executive David Coulter said during a news conference attended by officials from several school districts.

Coulter said the funds, which commissioners are expected to approve at their Sept. 3 meeting, will help school budgets that have been severely impacted with unanticipated expenditures related to the coronavirus and preparations to keep students, teachers and staff safe as classrooms reopen.

“Oakland County has been supporting all stakeholders during the pandemic — small businesses, nonprofit organizations, our cities, villages and townships — and with schools reopening, it is crucial we do all we can to help our schools provide a safe learning environment and ensure the districts get the support they need,” Coulter said. “We want parents and students to have confidence their school experience will be safe.”

The announcement comes one day after the county expanded free drive-thru COVID-19 testing for children ages 4-17 who exhibit symptoms. Previously, people had to be 18 or older to receive such tests. Appointments at testing sites can be made by calling nurses at (800) 848-5533.

At the start of the news conference, Coulter said the county’s emergency operations center was distributing 10,000 masks to schools that will begin with in-class sessions “so all teachers and students can be assured to have a mask.” The first districts to receive the masks will be Oxford, Brandon, Huron Valley and Northville, he said.

Also attending the news conference were county Commissioner Gwen Markham, D-Novi, and superintendents Steve Matthews of Novi Community School District, Amy Kruppe of Hazel Park Schools, Paul Salah of Huron Valley Schools and Jamii Hitchcock of Oak Park Schools.

The county’s school districts and charter schools can apply to recover unreimbursed expenses or anticipated expenses through Dec. 31.

A wide range of expenses are eligible and include costs such as: equipment and curriculum to facilitate remote learning; personal protective equipment; building enhancements, including Plexiglas to ensure social distancing; creation of safety protocols; no-touch thermometers; disinfectant for public spaces; signage, and costs to retrofit a classroom.

And while all school districts are different and have their own issues on what needs to be addressed, all superintendents agreed such funding is needed.

Kruppe said her district has spent $325,000 for personal protective equipment in Hazel Park schools. Novi’s Matthews said that district — which will offer a hybrid of virtual instruction for half the students and in-person classes for the other half — has spent $400,000 to make that school safe for returning students.

“Our students need to be back at school but they also need to be safe,” Matthews said.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319