Whitmer Issues Order Ending In-Person School Year, Calls For Continued Learning

WWJ News
April 02, 2020 - 11:30 am

LANSING (WWJ) - The big question has been answered for parents, teachers and students in Michigan.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has issued an Executive Order suspending face-to-face learning for K-12 schools for the rest of the school year.

IN-PERSON SCHOOL YEAR ENDS

All public, private and boarding K-12 schools in Michigan have been closed since Monday, March 16, to help curb the spread of coronavirus.  

Executive Order 2020-35, signed Thursday morning, decrees that all K-12 school buildings will remain closed — unless restrictions are lifted, allowing kids to be back in the classroom by mid-May — and calls for continued learning at home.

[READ THE COMPLETE ORDER HERE]

"My number one priority right now is protecting Michigan families from the spread of COVID-19. For the sake of our students, their families, and the more than 100,000 teachers and staff in our state, I have made the difficult decision to close our school facilities for the remainder of the school year," Gov. Whitmer said, in a statement.

WHAT ABOUT ONLINE LEARNING? 

Whitmer does expect learning to continue during this time. 

At a news conference, Whitmer said not all at-home learning plans will be the same in all districts. While all schools will be required to offer some kind ongoing learning, it can come in many forms depending on a district's resources and those of families in the communities. 

 "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. 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," the governor said.

Whitmer said districts will make use of whatever assets they have available.  "I don't know that there are a lot of other great options...It's not like flipping a switch and saying everyone can do online," Whitmer said.

Families in some Michigan communities, she noted, don't have internet access, and many young Michiganders don't have access to a device. 

Whitmer added that students and families will not be punished if they're not able to participate in the district’s learning plan, whatever it is. 

She said she knows a lot of people are anxious and have questions. Her own child, she said, was texting her this morning asking her how this was going to work  (More details below)

WHEN WILL SCHOOL BEGIN NEXT FALL?

The next schools year could be extended, to make up for lost days in the classroom.

While earlier reports stated that the fall semester is expected to begin before Labor Day, Whitmer did not confirm that detail on Thursday. The governor said she can't set an exact date or say for certain at this time when the next school year will start, but she does plan to give districts some wiggle room. 

School districts will have 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 COVID-19.

WILL HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS GRADUATE?

As for seniors looking to graduate, the governor's plan will allow local districts to determine graduation requirements so that students can still graduate on time. 

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.

MORE DETAILS ABOUT REMOTE LEARNING

The Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators and the Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers are currently developing a Continuity of Learning Plan template application for schools to utilize in order to create their localized plan, the governor's office said. The application will be made available by April 3.

District plans will need to detail how districts will provide opportunities for students to learn remotely and how schools will manage and monitor their progress. It will also provide information on how parents and guardians can learn more about the local plan. 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.  

Every district’s plan will be different and will reflect what’s best and feasible for their community. A plan can include learning by any number of modes of instruction delivery, including a hybrid approach. 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.

Under the order, district facilities may be used by public school employees and contractors for the purposes of facilitating learning at a distance while also practicing social distancing, the order states.

LEARNING PLAN FOR SCHOOLS IN DETROIT

Detroit Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the district's learning platform will be released April 14, and that they're working to provide Detroit families with tablets and internet access.

Offering some details in a statement, he thanked Whitmer for her leadership during these unprecedented times:

"We knew she cared about public education when she took office but her priorities, and most importantly, her decisions after taking office reflect that commitment. She listens to leaders, considers different viewpoints, and then acts decisively. This is the type of leadership we need in these difficult times. I was one of the first leaders to call for the closure of schools this year, not because I do not want to see our children in school learning, but because I knew this was the best decision to ensure the health and safety of our children, employees, and the greater community as we continue to fight a virus that is ripping through our district, schools, and city communities," Vitti said.

"I also advocated for an early decision regarding the closure of schools so we could shift our organization, employees, and resources to engage our students virtually and through printed academic packets. Our district staff has been working hard since school was closed to develop a new learning framework that will offer learning opportunities for PreK-12 students in literacy, mathematics, science and social studies. This will include lessons for physical education and art as well. Learning will build from the curriculum our students are currently using with linked videos introducing learning concepts and assignments.

"All of our school level staff will have specific roles and responsibilities to engage students and families during the closure through phone calls and the virtual platform of “Teams.” ....We will focus on students’ learning and their social emotional needs during these difficult times as well. All of the assignments will be printed as well to address the city’s digital divide.

"We are actively working with the business community to implement a strategy to provide all DPSCD families with a tablet and internet access. Our goal is to execute this commitment by early/late May. All assignments will be enrichment based. Although feedback will be given to assignments, they will not be graded, and grades will not be issued. Lastly, we are in the process of developing the details regarding senior graduation and grade level promotion. Our intent will not be to use this crisis as justification to prevent students from graduating or being promoted to the next grade level.

"We are disappointed that the Legislature did not commit to maintain the same rate of funding through this fiscal year, but this is to be assumed by the Governor’s announcement today. We will work to ensure that our employees continue to receive their full pay and expected income as long as they participate in this learning and engagement shift with our students and families.”  

ON SCHOOL SPORTS

There's been no announcement yet. The Michigan High School Athletic Association said it will announce no later than Friday (April 3) afternoon the status of its 2019-20 Winter and Spring season.

Executive Director Mark Uyl said, in a statement Thursday: “We’re reviewing the governor’s announcement, asking questions and will make a statement as we continue to digest this order.”

MENTAL HEALTH HELP

Schools should continue to provide mental health care services for students, to the extent possible, and should be ready and willing to help efforts to establish disaster relief childcare centers. School districts will also continue to provide meals for families who need them during the COVID-19 crisis. If any schools have unused personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies or other materials, they are allowed and encouraged to donate them to organizations that could put them to use.

Michigan is now third in the nation with confirmed COVID-19 cases. As of Wednesday, Michigan has 9,334 confirmed cases of the virus, with a total of 337 related deaths statewide. 

Whitmer has declared a state of disaster in Michigan and formally asked the legislature to extend the existing state of emergency by 70 days. The current "stay home, stay safe" order is set to expire on April 13, but could also be extended.