“Domino effect” after storm damage keeps students out of Menominee, Mich., school

A rainstorm caused flood damage during roof repairs, requiring the replacement of flooring, which exposed asbestos
Published: Sep. 14, 2022 at 11:02 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 15, 2022 at 7:27 PM EDT
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MENOMINEE, Mich. (WBAY) - While the school year started normally for many kids this year without major COVID protocols in place, that’s not the case for Menominee High School students, who’ve been in virtual learning since the start of classes -- but not because of COVID-19.

Over the summer, while replacing the roof and HVAC system at the high school, there was a heavy rainstorm.

Superintendent Richard Sarau says the rain flooded the second floor of the building and the flooring started to come undone. Because of the age of the school, that old tile contained asbestos, which needs to be removed.

He says one room turned into two, then weeks later turned into three. He says the domino effect led to an environmental team suggesting all the tiling on the second floor be replaced because it was detecting asbestos particles on the first floor as well. So, for safety reasons, that is what the school district is doing now.

A letter sent to families in August outlined a plan for students to return for in-person classes next Monday, Sept. 19, but Wednesday parents received another letter saying that date won’t be met. The district said it wasn’t setting a new goal for returning to the building because the “unprecedented situation has been difficult to predict.”

“I get the frustration and I understand the frustration, but I hope everybody realizes that we’re doing everything that we possibly can. There wasn’t a situation that anybody caused, it’s just where we’re at,” Sarau said.

Parents tell Action 2 News they’re frustrated, especially for their kids, who are waiting to get back to a more normal school year, especially the seniors.

One parent, Shannon Poquette, gave us a statement, “Many students across the world suffered with COVID and online schooling. We have students that are supposed to graduate this year that have not had a normal school year. We were ‘supposed’ to return to in class learning on September 19, 2022. We as a community and as a parent were not informed until September 14, 2022, that we will not. When asked at the Meeting of the whole Monday, September 12, 2022, we were told we can’t have any information. To be honest we were not told anything. They discussed it in front of us concerned parents, staff and community members as if we were not even there.”

She continued, “I want to know how many students will not graduate this year because they missed so much in-class learning between COVID and now this? I want to know when my child gets to sit in a desk with her classmates and learn the way she thrives. Nobody wants to put our children in a dangerous school. We want to know what they are doing to get help? What if there was not online? They would have figured something else out. Start there.”

Some parents who asked us to look into the delay said they felt left in the dark, so the superintendent told us he plans to post updates once a week on the school’s website.

“We’re doing everything that we possibly can, and our number one goal, right, is the safety of the kids and the staff that are going to go back into that building, and get it open as soon as possible. So as soon as it’s safe,” Sarau said.

Some parents we talked to, like Poquette, voiced concern about long-term virtual learning and the lasting impact it may have on kids. A U.W. Health pediatrician says virtual learning is still new enough that we don’t have that data yet, but Dr. Megan Moreno says kids are learning all the time outside of school, so she encourages parents to capitalize on those opportunities.

“Parents can play a positive role in having their kids keep learning even in offline environment. Making dinner is an opportunity, laundry. That can be painful for parents, but opportunity to continue learning in ways that are not virtual,” Dr. Moreno said.

The Menominee, Mich., school district hasn't set a date for middle and high schoolers to have classes in person.