As COVID-19 cases start to climb back up in Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer is releasing the Return to School Roadmap to get students and teachers back in the classroom for the fall semester.
The roadmap, issued by an executive order, helps districts create local plans for in-person learning for the fall and provides structure to support schools in Michigan as they prepare for the next school year.
The order requires schools adopt a preparedness and response plan for how to protect students and educators. Using $256 million, the state is supporting school plans.
Under the order, schools need to take several steps to be ready for the fall by creating a COVID-19 preparedness and response plan under the following phases:
PHASE 1, 2 OR 3
Schools must close if their region is in phase 1, 2, or 3 of the MI Safe Start plan, the highest risk for the spread of COVID-19. District employees or contractors needed for basic operations will be allowed inside, as will food service workers providing food for distribution, and licensed child-care providers.
Additionally, schools must suspend athletics, after-school activities, inter-school activities (e.g., debate competitions), and busing. They must also offer alternative modes of instruction via virtual learning that the students and their parents need to access.
Schools must also continue to pay school employees while redeploying staff to provide meaningful work.
When schools are open, face masks are required, except during meals and unless they cannot be medically tolerated. This applies to all staff and students from kindergarten and older while on the bus and in the hallways. Students in grades 6 and up must also wear them in class while students in kindergarten through 5 must only interact with students in their classroom throughout the day.
Assemblies would be prohibited and the school must follow protocol for hygiene, cleaning, athletics, screening, testing protocols, and busing and student transportation.
If schools cannot implement their own preparedness plan, they can partner with one or more districts to create one together. By August 15, or seven days before the start of the school, the plan must be approved by the local school district or a designated administrator for a nonpublic school.
By August 17, the districts must submit to the Superintendent of Public Instruction (“Superintendent”) and to the State Treasurer and post them on their school website.
“Our students, parents, and educators have made incredible sacrifices during our battle with COVID-19,” said Governor Whitmer. “Thanks to our aggressive action against this virus, the teachers who have found creative ways to reach their students, and the heroes on the front lines, I am optimistic that we will return to in-person learning in the fall. The MI SafeSchools Return to School Roadmap will help provide schools with the guidance they need as they enact strict safety measures to continue protecting educators, students, and their families. I will continue working closely with the Return to Learn Advisory Council and experts in epidemiology and public health to ensure we get this right, but we also need more flexibility and financial support from the federal government. This crisis has had serious implications on our budget, and we need federal support if we’re going to get this right for our kids.”
“The most important thing we can do as we prepare to reopen school buildings in the fall is closely examine the data and remain vigilant in our steps to fight this virus,” said MDHHS Chief Deputy for Health and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. “I will continue to work closely with Governor Whitmer and the Return to Learn Advisory Council to ensure we continue to put the health and safety of our students and educators first. We will remain nimble to protect students, educators, and their families.”
Gov. Whitmer announced the name of the plan on June 17 and said schools would be allowed to resume in-person learning in Phase 4 of the MI Safe Start plan, with strict safety measures in place. Additionally, on June 30, she will release an executive order called “Michigan’s Return to School Roadmap” that will provide details on what will be required and what will be recommended for schools.
Right now that means all of Michigan would be able to resume in-person learning in the fall. Six regions in Michigan are currently in Phase 4 of the MI Safe Start plan, and two regions are already in Phase 5, the Traverse City region and the Upper Peninsula.
The Return to School will align closely with the MI Safe Start Plan and the governor will consider the six phases of the MI Safe Start Plan and the Michigan Economic Recover Council’s 8 regions of the state to determine when, where, and how face-to-face instruction can resume.
The Roadmap will set the minimum health and safety requirements, although districts may choose to enact more aggressive ones in consultation with local public health officials.
These minimum requirements will apply to all schools, including traditional public, charter, private, and parochial schools.