Eve Kaltz is superintendent of Center Line Schools and vice president of the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education. Russ Pickell is superintendent of Riverview Schools and immediate past president of the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education.
As educators, the idea of schools being closed for the remainder of the year is something we would have never expected. It’s a significant disruption in the lives of students across Michigan who look to their schools as more than just a place to learn, but a place to grow, to socialize and to receive support they cannot always get anywhere else in their lives.
As schools across the state are rapidly shifting their focus to provide whatever level of remote learning opportunities they can for their students who won’t be returning to their classrooms this year, educators know that academic programs alone won’t be enough.
Whether it’s ensuring students have access to needed guidance and counseling during this time, providing ongoing special education support or delivering meals to students and families that rely upon it, educators are rewriting, completely, the playbook of how we can best serve our students and our communities on the fly in hopes that it’s enough to see them through this crisis.
Despite the significant concerns we have as to how we can give our students any sense of normalcy, let alone help them learn and grow, at such a challenging time, Governor Whitmer’s decision to put their health and safety first is unquestionably the right one.
Since Day 1 of this emergency, we’ve received countless questions from concerned parents, students and faculty about what would happen next. Questions about athletic events, graduation ceremonies and whether this decision to close schools entirely would be coming were understandable. However, the answer must be to follow the science.
Medical experts have made it clear that putting our children back into crowded classrooms and hallways puts them at risk. While keeping the doors to our schools closed will unquestionably be difficult for countless students and families, it will keep our children and our communities safer.
Whitmer followed the science in making her decision. That, alone, would be enough for us to stand behind it, but the governor has gone far beyond simply telling schools to stay closed by providing the significant guidance necessary to start answering the question of how we can best provide services to our students and ensure that they are not unfairly hurt by a process we are inventing and reinventing with each passing day..
By suspending assessment testing, waiving many of the traditional classroom requirements and giving local districts needed flexibility, the governor has rightly put the focus squarely on supporting our students’ needs.
And by giving students and parents the clarity and certainty they have been looking for, it allows them to understand what they’re being asked to do and focus on their health, their education and their future.
These next few months will not be without problems, and the services we pull together, nimbly, will never be a direct replacement for what schools across Michigan traditionally provide. Decisions will be made that aren’t perfect. There will be issues that may not get addressed. But our focus will remain firmly on helping every student through this ongoing crisis with whatever unique services and support they need, and our goal will be to welcome them back, successfully, to our classrooms in the fall. They deserve nothing less.
In a time of uncertainty, leadership matters more than ever. We are grateful for the leadership Governor Whitmer has shown throughout this emergency, and we’re proud to see so many of our colleagues innovating and leading their own communities through a time that none of us could have foreseen.
Together, our state will get through this, and together we will advocate for each of our children.