Michigan scrambles to salvage school year in wake of coronavirus

State and school leaders are meeting to figure out how to salvage the rest of the school year in Michigan. (Bridge file photo)

March 30: Whitmer to end Michigan school year; seniors graduate, others move up

Government and school leaders are meeting to decide whether schools will reopen this spring, if instruction will be extended into the summer, what that would look like and how it would be funded.

Legislators, members of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administraton and officials from school associations had a conference call Wednesday to begin talks about how the state should handle schooling during the pandemic. Some of the group will continue talks through the weekend, according to a Facebook post by Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.

Michigan’s public and private schools are in the second week of a four-week mandated closure to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Schools will reopen at the earliest on April 14. Whitmer has left open the possibility of extending the closure, depending on the spread of the potentially deadly virus.

School officials statewide have expressed frustration with the Democratic governor and Republican legislative leaders for the lack of answers about what will happen with the remainder of the academic year, funding to continue to pay educators, and even if seniors will be allowed to graduate.

In the social media post, Shirkey said schools, teachers and staff will get paid if school is extended. Teachers and many school staff are paid for 180 days of school, and are continuing to be paid during the state-ordered closure. If the school year is extended to make up for days missed during the closure, educators would either work those extra days for free, or schools would have to find millions of dollars in additional funds.

“We can’t pay our people twice for those same [school] days,” said Lou Steigerwald, superintendent of Norway Vulcan Area Schools in the Upper Peninsula near Iron Mountain.

“If we have to make those days up, I either have to tell people they need to use their sick days now or lay them off and bring them back” for the makeup days this summer.

Shirkey tried to calm those fears, writing in his social media post that he “will not accept any plan going forward that doesn't include compensation and funding for all involved.”

William Miller, executive director of the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators, who was in the meeting with Shirkey, said the group had a consensus on another big issue: the need for academic instruction to resume before the next school year begins in September.

Kansas, for example, has closed schools through the end of the school year. If Michigan were to do the same, without accommodations for some type of instruction in the summer, students would have no structured academic learning for almost six months.

“Everyone [on the call] says we will have instruction between now and September,” Miller said.

What that instruction would look like – in person in Michigan classrooms, or improvised online learning – is up in the air.

“If this [school shutdown] goes on for long, we need to figure out how to offer instruction,” Miller said. “We’re going to need continuity with our students and find a way to deliver instruction.”

Some school districts, such as West Bloomfield School District in Oakland County, quickly transitioned to online learning. 

Others would struggle with online learning because of families who do not have Internet access in their homes.

“The need to continue learning, that’s the priority,” Miller said. “But it [online learning] is never going to take the place of students in the classroom. We’d have to do the best we can. We have to realize we’re in something of a compromised situation.”

School superintendents who spoke to Bridge, many of whom are overseeing massive food delivery operations to low-income students and are retrofitting shuttered classrooms into child care centers for the children of essential workers, expressed frustration that leaders in Lansing aren’t demonstrating what they view as the same decisive leadership.

“Parents and school district staff wait. Plans need to be made,” Novi Superintendent Steve Matthews wrote on Twitter. “Schools have stepped up. Learning is taking place. Food is being delivered. Someone in Lansing needs to show some leadership.”

Added Kevin Polston, superintendent of Godfrey-Lee Public Schools near Grand Rapids, “There’s general uncertainty from teachers and families. Are we going to get a more coordinated effort from the state? That’s my hope.”

Shirkey admitted in his Facebook post that parents and schools are “looking for quicker guidance.”

 “NO ONE should interpret our measured approach as anything other than making sure we have an actionable plan going forward,” Shirkey wrote.

Other decisions that still need to be made include:

  • Will the state waive graduation requirements for seniors, many of whom are taking required classes this semester?
  • Will students in grades 9-11 have to repeat required classes they are taking this semester, or be given credit for the courses?
  • Will students advance to their next grade in September? (Grade promotion generally is a local district decision)

Three state education organizations, representing superintendents, ISDs and school boards, wrote a joint letter Wednesday pleading with Whitmer and the Legislature to make decisions about the remainder of the school year quickly.

“We urge the state to immediately move to waive days of instruction that fell during the mandated period of closure from March 16 through April 13, 2020, and develop a clear framework and plan to guide districts in educating children through a statewide seat-time waiver going forward,” the letter said. “This framework must acknowledge the incredible disparities that exist between communities related to technology, access to broadband, and other resources while clearly identifying methods in which districts will be able to provide quality instruction in a variety of ways, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.”

The letter called on Whitmer to decide within a week whether the state’s school closure would be extended past the current four-week period, to allow schools time to plan. “Further delay creates uncertainty,” the letter said.

Shirkey wrote that a subgroup of the officials on the conference call Wednesday will meet “now thru the weekend in an attempt to reach a consensus for a recommendation to the governor early next week” on the school calendar.

One possible hitch: It may not be clear by next week how long schools will be closed due to the pandemic -- a matter that could influence how schools handle instruction.

“It’s developing,” Miller said. “These are complicated policy issues. People are working hard on this.”

RESOURCES:

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Comments

Pete
Wed, 03/25/2020 - 9:28pm

Can you direct me to fb post by Shirkey that you reference? I couldn’t seem to find it on his page. Thank you!

Jennifer
Thu, 03/26/2020 - 9:37am

This isn't complicated. This is childrens' education on the line. Most parents feel as if Whitmer doesn't care. She locked us down like caged animals. She expects us to let our children fall by the wayside as the state has done. Bloomfield Hills figured it out. Why can't Lansing? Figure it out! NOW! Remember, we parents will remember every misstep in the coming elections.

Theresa
Fri, 03/27/2020 - 5:12pm

Agree 100%!! Our Petoskey schools are in limbo whist the so called educators figure it out. Any wonder our children are below average for the country and world wide. It is not due to lack of money so they cannot use that as an excuse!!!

Bridget
Sat, 03/28/2020 - 11:56pm

Don't blame the teachers for this Theresa. As an educator, we are stuck here in limbo too. We've been begging to see our students and CAN'T. If you think you're so much better, then homeschool.

Anonymous
Wed, 04/01/2020 - 1:46pm

Everyone thinks this mess is so easy to solve. The truth is that we all failed ourselves and continue to do so with misplaced priorities and no back up plans. It's always thoughts and prayers. Everyone needs to grow up. Everyone needs to take responsibility.

Anonymous
Thu, 03/26/2020 - 11:04am

For K-5, there's a free online website being used by Michigan schools called BrainVentures (https://cdc.engin.umich.edu/daily-brain-venture/). It's something to do for your kids when they're at home everyday and is both fun and educational. (Or at least keeps them busy and learning.)

JPK
Thu, 03/26/2020 - 6:00pm

Our School district is conducting on line learner so our teachers ARE working. No one is getting paid twice if they are working. Also, the funds used currently to pay the teachers is coming from the government assistance released to schools,... That is where ours is coming from.

Anonymous
Thu, 03/26/2020 - 6:38pm

Please take into consideration the high rate of split families that must still follow court orders for summer custody. I for one need to bring my son across the country for over a month to visit his mother, how will this work if he has to make up time, I will not drop thousands in legal fees to explain this in court.

Linda
Thu, 03/26/2020 - 7:40pm

Kansas did not cancel school. They closed IN PERSON school. They are delivering instruction through other means.

Theresa
Fri, 03/27/2020 - 5:10pm

Because they were smart and organized thus had a plan!!!!

middle of the mit
Fri, 04/03/2020 - 1:42am

let me guess,,,, the Brownback experiment?

Oh wait! They excavated their republican legislators. And those remained republican changed parties.

Anonymous
Thu, 03/26/2020 - 7:48pm

Will they address the massive crunch they have out on private schools? This administration has already expressed its disdain for private schools. The order has drastically effected private school operations. Not to mention the statewide shutdown effecting the parents who do work to pay tuition and now cannot.

Theresa
Fri, 03/27/2020 - 5:03pm

They should have had a plan in place before a disaster! To fail to plan is to plan to fail! Unfortunate for the children. All of them should be having instruction via web based during this time being that the teachers are being paid.

Bridget
Sat, 03/28/2020 - 11:59pm

Okay, it seems from your many comments on this article that you have a disdain for teachers. Why? What is your problem with teachers? By the way, teachers are still having to work, just not in person. You clearly don't know what you are talking about. At all.

Theresa
Sun, 03/29/2020 - 3:33pm

I have a tremendous amount of respect for teachers. They have the most difficult job in the world. And my anger is certainly not directed to you or other teachers like yourself. I think that it depends largely on the school system as each one seems to have taken an individual approach. The experience I am having at this time with my child is completely different that that of my child's friends in another district.

Theresa
Fri, 03/27/2020 - 5:05pm

They should have had a plan in place before a disaster! To fail to plan is to plan to fail! Unfortunate for the children. All of them should be having instruction via web based during this time being that the teachers are being paid.

Anonymous
Sat, 03/28/2020 - 2:53am

This is a pandemic people. For crying out loud. Nobody plans for this to happen. Try to exercise patience. We will all be better for it in the long run. Our health and the health of our children is more important right now. If you truly care about your children then wait for the governor to make an informed decision for their safety.

Gerry Niedermaier
Sun, 03/29/2020 - 11:36am

The problem with our education systems are the intellectualizing educators. My uncle was a Superintendent with a couple of Michigan school districts, and I swear to God, if you asked him a simple education question it took him forever to spit out an answer. He had an Ph.D, and we called him "Mr. Big". The issues with kids out of school from COVID19 are complex. But for this year, let's not do the "analysis paralysis" routine. Let's simplify for this year, and perhaps next year, and then hopefully we can get back to the usual school routines. So let's pretend: the teacher submits the current grade as the final grade. Post secondary schools can loosen their rules due the circumstances and enroll these high school seniors and give them chance. Kids with failing grades at this time, won't improve at this late time and will just have to have to bite the bullet. Illnesses, etc , and other extenuating circumstances will be dealt with by the District on an individual basis. All faculty, custodians, bus drivers, food service workers get paid same as usual per contracts. The $$$ is there. Same for colleges. Suspend the application process like other states are doing. Administrators at the State and local levels, let's not wail, run around and wring out hands as if the Huns were riding in.....it's only as hard as you choose to make it. Press the Governor to make this declaration. SCHOOLS OUT FOR THE SUMMER!!!!!

LOL
Wed, 04/01/2020 - 2:05pm

YOU want basically a BUMPER STICKER solution, but it took you 246 words to say THAT! You should have probably listened more to the content of your uncle's discourse rather than observing superficially the length of it. Less intellect is not the answer. "Analysis paralysis"? Please, we don't need another leader who claims to know everything and relies on his gut instincts. You know the kind of guy who can't read a well-planned teleprompter speech because he thinks a great idea popped into his head while other words were spilling from his mouth?

Gerry Niedermaier
Sun, 03/29/2020 - 11:39am

The problem with our education systems are those intellectualizing educators with their turf wars, condescending attitudes toward teachers, parents and staff and their arrogance. My uncle was a Superintendent with a couple of Michigan school districts, and I swear to God, if you asked him a simple education question it took him forever to spit out an answer, but only after striking his “Superintendents” pose. A running joke in the education field was PhD stands for “Piled high and Deep.” LOL. So, there are very few who are approachable. The issues with kids out of school from COVID19 are complex. We all know this and for this school year, let's not do the typical "analysis paralysis" approach. Let's simplify Policies and Procedures for this year, and perhaps next year, and then hopefully we can get back to the usual school routines. These P&Ps will be in place in the event there is another national emergency and can be revised as we go along. So, let's pretend: the teacher submits the current student grades in their respective classes as the final grade, period. Parents know what their kids’ grades are, so there are no surprises there. If they don’t, then that’s on them as well. Kids with failing grades won't improve at this late time and will just have to have to bite the bullet. No surprises to parents here either. Illnesses and other extenuating circumstances will be dealt with by the District on an individual basis. All faculty, custodians, bus drivers, food service workers get paid same as usual per contracts. The $$$ is there. Same for colleges. They can loosen their rules due to the circumstances and enroll these high school seniors and give them a chance. In fact, some visionary states are stopping all admission applications to attend their colleges and universities. If you want to go, you’re in plain and simple. It’s up to you as always, to make the grade to stay enrolled. Administrators at the State and local levels, let's not wail, flail your arms, run around wringing your hands as if Genghis Kahn and his hoards were riding in.....it's only as hard as you choose to make it. Brush analysis paralysis aside, step up to the plate and press the Governor to make this declaration. SCHOOLS OUT FOR THE SUMMER!!!!!

LOL
Wed, 04/01/2020 - 2:11pm

That time it took 386 words to say the same thing! What do you have against intellect? "Arrogant, condescending"? You remind me of the type of people who thought it would be a great idea to switch the Flint drinking water to the Flint river to save some money.

Anonymous
Wed, 04/01/2020 - 1:10pm

Make the teachers and the student work part-time from now through the summer, with some flexibility.