Grade schools will continue to hold in-person classes, Kijewski says, following strict guidelines for sanitization and social distancing

DETROIT — Following an order from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of Detroit will transition to virtual learning for at least three weeks starting Wednesday, Nov. 18.

Superintendent Kevin Kijewski noted the archdiocese would comply with the order, which is designed to combat rapidly rising COVID-19 caseloads throughout the state. 

“Our Catholic high schools are prepared and are ready to implement detailed, methodical, and effective distance learning plans for as long as necessary,” Kijewski wrote in a letter to parents and educators. “While we must be socially distanced at this time, please know we will keep our eyes fixed on Jesus (Heb 12:1) as we heed Archbishop Vigneron’s call to remain spiritually and academically close.”

The state health department on Sunday issued an order closing high schools, colleges, in-person dining in restaurants, as well as casinos and movie theaters as the virus spreads.

The state added 44,019 cases of the novel coronavirus last week — shattering the previous weekly record — as hospital systems sound alarm bells over increasingly crowded emergency rooms and ICUs. 

A young girl gets hand sanitizer at Our Lady of the Lakes School in Waterford. Grade schools will continue to remain open, for now, following strict safety and sanitization guidelines. 

While the order does not affect elementary schools, which will remain open, Kijewski stressed that all of the archdiocese’s schools continue to follow stringent safety guidelines and preparedness plans developed this summer with advice from the local medical community and the archdiocese’s return-to-school task force. 

“If a Catholic elementary school must temporarily suspend in-person instruction and transition to distance education due to community health concerns, those decisions will be made on a case by case basis in conjunction with the Department of Catholic Schools and medical experts,” Kijewski said. “Further, any such decisions will be guided by the best understanding and evidence for what will protect and best serve our students.”

The order also is expected to impact Catholic institutions of higher learning, including Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Madonna University and the University of Detroit Mercy.

In a letter to the Sacred Heart community, rector Msgr. Todd Lajiness wrote that the seminary had made great strides in keeping the community safe, following strict guidelines regarding masks, social distancing and sanitizing on campus.

“I'm very proud of the SHMS community and how well we have done, and we planned to go fully online after Thanksgiving. We almost made it!” Msgr. Lajiness wrote. “We have run this race well together and we’ll make the transition to remote/distance learning well.”

A seminarian takes notes during a class at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in September. Sacred Heart had planned to transition to online learning after Thanksgiving. Like other colleges in the state, it is affected by the health department’s recent order.

On Nov. 13, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron announced the extension of the general dispensation from the Sunday Mass obligation for Catholics in the archdiocese until Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. 

The health department’s order will not close parishes or Masses, and “does not change our policies or practices, as we have demonstrated that our policies and guidelines can provide a safe environment,” a statement from the archdiocese said. “Pastors are encouraged to remain vigilant in following AOD health and safety requirements for Mass, other liturgies, and all other gatherings.”

Faith formation classes and activities also will remain unchanged for grade-school children, but for high schoolers and adults, “these activities are recommended to go online for the three-week period” ending Dec. 8, the archdiocese said.

“The decision about how these groups meet at parishes during this time is at the discretion of the pastor. All parish activities which are not connected Encounter (Evangelization), Grow (Faith formation and catechesis), or Witness (Evangelical Charity and Christian Service) should be canceled or rescheduled during this three-week period.”

The health department’s order also requires all workers who are able to work remotely to do so. Most members of the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Central Services staff have been working remotely since the pandemic began in March, and many parish workers also have been working remotely.