LANSING, MIch. - Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order Thursday that addresses how the education of the 1.5 million K-12 students in Michigan will be handled throughout the remainder of the Covid-19 crisis. The big question has been answered - schools will not resume for the remainder of this school year, unless gathering restrictions are lifted before then.
REMAINDER OF SCHOOL YEAR SUSPENDED
Schools haven’t been open since March 16, and Whitmer’s new order suspends in-person K-12 instruction for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year – unless crisis gathering restrictions are lifted before then.
But learning and teacher instruction will not stop. The order also sets guidelines for remote learning, which are detailed below.
FLEXIBLE SCHOOL CALENDAR
The order gives districts the flexibility to adopt a balanced calendar for the 2019-2020 school year and/or to begin the 2020-2021 school year before Labor Day without having to seek additional approval.
Teachers and school employees will be paid for the remainder of the school year.
Student teachers will still be able to get a temporary certification and current teachers will still be able to get their certifications renewed, even if they can’t meet all the requirements due to the crisis.
HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS
All Michigan high school seniors will be given the opportunity to graduate this year so that they may make a successful postsecondary transition.
Additionally, all standardized tests previously scheduled for the remainder of the school year, including the M-STEP and the SAT, will be canceled. There will be a date in October for rising high school seniors to take the SAT and for other high school students to take the PSAT.
HOME LEARNING GUIDELINES
As for the learning guidelines, a template is currently being developed for schools to utilize by The Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators and the Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers, and will be available by April 3.
Each district must have its plan approved by their regional intermediate school district before being implemented. Public school academies must have their plans approved by their authorizer. Districts can also partner with one another to create joint plans.
Under Whitmer’s order, schools must establish distance learning programs no later than April 28.
A plan can include learning by any number of modes of instruction delivery, including a hybrid approach. Options include phone lessons, online classes and mailing materials mailed to homes. Schools relying on virtual learning should ensure that every student has access to a device that can connect to the internet.
As Whitmer stated Thursday, Michigan has 56 intermediate school districts and over 900 total, each with their own sets of assets and challenges. Therefore every district’s plan will be different and will reflect what’s best and feasible for their community.
However they are designed, districts must ensure their plans are appropriate, equitable and accessible for students and families.
If the plan relies on some online instruction, the district should ensure every student who needs it has access to an appropriate device with an ability to connect to the internet. Students and families will not be penalized if they are unable to participate in their alternate learning plan.
School districts can and should continue to provide mental health care services for students, as well as meals for families who need them.
“As a parent, I understand the challenge closing schools creates for parents and guardians across the state, which is why we are setting guidelines for schools to continue remote learning and ensuring parents have resources to continue their children’s education from the safety of their homes,” Whitmer said. “There is no video chat or homework packet that can replace the value of a highly trained, experienced teacher working with students in a classroom, but we must continue to provide equitable educational opportunities for students during this public health crisis.”
District facilities may also be used by public school employees and contractors for the purposes of facilitating learning at a distance while also practicing social distancing during the Covid-19 crisis.
If the school year ends early, Whitmer is planning on having the 2020-21 school year start sometime in August, before Labor Day. Traditionally the last weekend before Michigan public schools open, several schools have previously applied for waivers to start the year earlier than the holiday.
While there have been efforts to overturn the law that requires schools to start after Labor Day, the tourism industry has pushed back on those efforts, arguing that businesses rely on a lot of people that travel fro the weekend.
Even with all the changes in the school year, teachers and school staff will be paid through the end of June - a decision that Republicans were initially against but now agree with the governor on.
Whitmer first suspended school effective March 16 until April 5 after the first cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Michigan. Since then, the state has seen its COVID-19 total rocket to one of the highest counts in the country. Whitmer later extended the closure to April 13th but the peak of Michigan's coronavirus crisis isn't expected until April 10th.
With no end to the increase in sight, some school leaders like the Detroit Public Schools superintendent has argued the school year should have already been canceled.