Royal Oak Catholic grade school halts in-person classes over COVID cases

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A Metro Detroit Catholic grade school has closed to in-person learning after 12 students, some as young as preschool and first-grade, and four parents of students tested positive for COVID-19.

Shrine Catholic Grade School in Royal Oak.

In a letter to parents on Tuesday, officials at Shrine Catholic Grade School in Royal Oak said in the previous 24 hours, 12 students had tested positive for the virus, plus four parents with children in preschool, first, third and fifth grade.

The day the letter was sent, five full classrooms and 136 students had been quarantined. In the letter to all parents, Shrine grade school principal Jennifer Bero and Liz Richotte, early childhood director, said students and teachers would move to online learning.

"Our contact at the Oakland County Health Department has advised us that we should close our building until after spring break," the letter said. "We took this information to the Department of Catholic Schools at the Archdiocese of Detroit ... Along with the data shared with them, we conveyed to them that we are unable to staff our buildings."

"The Oakland County Health Department has instructed the exposed families to quarantine up to 14 days," the letter said. "As a Catholic school community, let us take time to pray for the quick recovery of the families who have been impacted."

Oakland County officials confirmed the private school reported multiple COVID student cases. 

Bill Mullan, spokesman for Oakland County, said the health department supported decisions by schools who opt to close on their own to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.

The number of children ages 0-18 in Oakland County who have tested positive for COVID has been rising since Feb. 17, according to data provided by the county.

For the reporting period of March 3-16, the county had 40 positive cases for children ages 0-4, 77 cases for ages 5-9, 197 cases for ages 10-13 and 409 cases for ages 14-18.

For the reporting period of Feb. 17 to March 2, the county had 18 cases for children ages 0-4, 42 cases for ages 5-9, 67 cases for ages 10-13 and 226 cases for ages 14-18.

Out of nearly 70,000 positive cases in the county, 9,525 cases were among people ages 0-19.

Holly Fournier, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Detroit, said the school has been in daily contact with parents with information about positive cases in the student body.

"It is important to note that, like all our schools, the faculty and staff at Shrine Grade School have been preparing all year for this possibility," Fournier said in an email. "They are committed to fulfilling the education needs of their students, as they did so effectively when the pandemic first began."