Parents urge Michigan to change rules about online learning during coronavirus

Michigan Schools Superintendent Michael Rice issued an order Friday saying online learning during the coronavirus crisis wouldn’t count, prompting confusion and condemnation from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (Shutterstock image)

Michigan parents and educators are demanding that state officials change the law so online instruction during the coronavirus school closure counts.

After Michigan State Superintendent Michael Rice said Friday that state law forbids counting the time, it touched off a wave of confusion, the ire of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and a campaign by parents to change state law so the instruction counts.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous that they’d [not count],” said Vaness Denha-Garmo, a communications specialist and parent of a Huron Valley seventh grader in western Oakland County.

Since Whitmer ordered all schools closed until at least April 5, Denha-Garmo said her daughter has done schoolwork online, completing activities suggested by teachers and emailing with her instructors.

State law requires schools to have 75 percent student attendance each day for a district to receive full state funding for that day. Attendance is impossible to determine and verify when traditional public schools are not designed to provide distance learning, according to an MDE news release Friday.

Rice said he was following state law, which requires students to complete 1,098 hours —  or 180 days — of class time per year. 

Leaders in the Republican-led House of Representatives are asking Whitmer to use her power to allow the time to count. 

Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, sent a letter to Whitmer on Friday saying she should bypass the Legislature and use her executive power to make the change.

And after saying she was “dismayed” by Rice’s ruling, Whitmer later issued a statement Friday saying students would get credit for grades and graduation.

“I will be working in the coming days to ensure our seniors graduate and that no child is held back as a result of our ability to provide face-to-face instruction during the COVID-19 school closure,” Whitmer said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for the governor confirmed she had received Chatfield’s letter and is reviewing them.

Rice said the Legislature could change the law and waive the need for every student to get 180 days of school and Whitmer said the time would count toward “grades, credits (and) graduation.”  

West Bloomfield School District officials are urging parents to contact their legislators to push them to count the time students are spending. District administrators and teachers have crafted content for students across grades.

Nancy Kim, a parent of two children in the district, protested the decision to the Department of Education and her legislators. She noted that teachers have provided rigorous lessons to “keep them interested and intellectually challenged and active.”

“The time these teachers spend on the individual basis per child might even exceed average time on a regular school day,” Kim said. 

“Is the alternative to let children do nothing until school resumes like an additional summer-slide? That would be ridiculous.”

Rice, the state superintendent, said that because not every student can access the Internet and the online content, his office said it wasn’t fair to count the instruction for some students if all cannot access it.

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“Only those districts and schools that can ensure that all students have equitable access to quality learning opportunities should pursue a full transition to online learning,” wrote Venessa Kessler, a deputy state superintendent. 

State Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, wrote on Facebook that legislators are working on the issue. She favors forgiving all missed school days, as the legislature has done when snow days have piled up during bad winters.

“It's an equity issue,” Chang wrote. 

“A lot of kids in Michigan do not have internet access so to allow some districts in more well resourced communities an ability to count this time while other communities lack access would further the inequities in our education system.”

The Detroit schools, for instance, are not offering online classes and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told The Detroit News he supported the state’s decision. 

He said it would be unfair if students who had access to online content got credit while others who had no access did not. 

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Comments

Barry Visel
Sat, 03/21/2020 - 7:08pm

Perhaps Rice should have responded With what the State is DOING to create online education programs that WOULD count towards credit. What a ridiculous response to our current situation.

Disgruntled Taxpayer
Sun, 03/22/2020 - 11:07am

What is ridiculous about it? The MDE has to follow State law and the MDE doesn't legislate State law. Perhaps it could have been worded differently to say something along the lines of the MDE looks forward to working with the Governor and Legislature to accommodate students and districts during this unprecedented time, but it's not up to the MDE to willy nilly change the law. I find peoples' reactions to be far more ridiculous.

LH
Sun, 03/22/2020 - 12:39pm

Buried near the end of this story is Rice's point that he feels it is unfair to give credit for online learning when there is a significant percentage of students across the state who do not have adequate internet access or ability to complete the work. This can be due to several factors: lack of broadband access in rural areas; families who don't have enough computers to allow parents to work at home and multiple kids to access online instruction; parents who have to work and do not have time to help their kids do their online classes; etc. Should these students be penalized because they are unable to keep up with their peers?

D.Lictawa
Mon, 04/06/2020 - 8:55am

Why should all suffer because a few have no access or their parents and siblings can’t help them. How about just a testing for grade when they go back and if they pass the test they move up? That’s not fair either? Your idea of fairness goes both ways. . "No general penalty, pecuniary or otherwise, shall be inflicted upon the population on account of the acts of individuals for which they cannot be regarded as jointly and severally responsible." Geneva Convention. What you are saying is the children, parents and teachers who have worked hard to continue their education and move up are now supposed to forfeit that because 4% of the population doesn’t have broadband?

Jimmy Cracked Corn
Sun, 04/19/2020 - 2:45pm

Funny you would say that... Isn't that EXACTLY why we shut down?

D.Lictawa
Mon, 04/06/2020 - 8:55am

Why should all suffer because a few have no access or their parents and siblings can’t help them. How about just a testing for grade when they go back and if they pass the test they move up? That’s not fair either? Your idea of fairness goes both ways. . "No general penalty, pecuniary or otherwise, shall be inflicted upon the population on account of the acts of individuals for which they cannot be regarded as jointly and severally responsible." Geneva Convention. What you are saying is the children, parents and teachers who have worked hard to continue their education and move up are now supposed to forfeit that because 4% of the population doesn’t have broadband?

LH
Sun, 03/22/2020 - 12:39pm

Buried near the end of this story is Rice's point that he feels it is unfair to give credit for online learning when there is a significant percentage of students across the state who do not have adequate internet access or ability to complete the work. This can be due to several factors: lack of broadband access in rural areas; families who don't have enough computers to allow parents to work at home and multiple kids to access online instruction; parents who have to work and do not have time to help their kids do their online classes; etc. Should these students be penalized because they are unable to keep up with their peers?

Anna
Sun, 03/22/2020 - 4:15pm

Barry,
Michigan already has Michigan Virtual high school and some college level / AP classes that are available on-line for credit. My oldest son took 80% of his high school credits on line through Michigan Virtual, graduating in 2008. We did this to guarantee he received appropriate accommodations as listed in his IEP, because too many of the high school teachers in our district fought against allowing him to keyboard all written work and submit homework via e-mail, which is the default for Michigan Virtual classes.

But, and it is a big but, in order for students to access these classes, either the schools or the parents must provide broadband internet, a Windows 8 or higher computer and in some cases, a web camera or a camera built into a laptop. Rural families don't usually have access to broadband ISPs with data or speed caps that would enable a student to view 2-3 hours daily of video lessons. Low income families may not have computers or any broadband access at home. Even most middle class families don't have a computer or fully functional tablet for each child.

Worse, the data caps imposed two years ago by most ISPs don't allow for more than 2-3 hours or so per day of non-zero-based video streaming in most homes. In other words, the kids in any given family would have to share a TOTAL of 2-3 hours per day of access to whatever video lessons or class discussions the school system was streaming, or their family would be charged for exceeding their data plan and their download speed would potentially drop so as to make video un-usable for the rest of the billing cycle.

Schools should have been building up the capacity of teachers to use on-line instruction, and I hope this need is given much higher priority once the immediate crisis has passed. But even where the teachers know how and are equipped to deliver high quality on-line instruction from their own homes, families and students still need to be able to access that content affordably. We are reliant on the state and federal government to appropriately regulate our cable, satellite and telephone companies to provide universal access to broadband internet, and whatever communication technology comes next. The Covid-19 crisis is very clearly demonstrating that the US must start treating Internet access as a utility and make telecoms, cable companies, and ISPs operate as common carriers. Until that happens, there is no way that even the majority of Michigan's school districts will be able to deliver on-line education to the homes of most of their students in ways those families can afford.

you suck
Mon, 03/23/2020 - 12:14pm

Your comment is well thought out but missed the reality of Michigan building an online program. It's going to take a lot longer than you want.

Mike
Sun, 03/22/2020 - 8:46am

As a parent of a child with an IEP, the school is required to provide specific accommodations for special needs students when instruction is being given. What these other parents don't understand about online learning is this:

How do IEP students get tests read out loud to them?
How do IEP students get extra resource teacher time?
How do IEP students get other services like speech therapy, occupational therapy, one-on-one instruction?
We had a blind student in our district that received tests/work translated into Braille.

These are all different services that could be required in the IEP contract that can put a special needs child at a disadvantage and far behind their peers if the school just sends home school work without providing the special education interventions and accommodations.

Jim Ross
Sun, 03/22/2020 - 9:50am

Two decades into the 21st Century...and THIS is the "state of our art? " Pathetic is too kind!

TJH
Sun, 03/22/2020 - 11:14am

This has been an unnecessary controversy. Dr. Rice and the MDE should have been much more careful and clear with their messaging. The legislature should have been informed about the legal problem and worked quickly to resolve it. Gov. Whitmer may need to clean up the mess through executive action now, but that would not be the best solution now that the whole ugly fiasco has been widely publicized and ifttn misreported and misunderstood.

Anna
Sun, 03/22/2020 - 4:50pm

I was very strongly against forgiving school districts from making up the 2 to 12 "excessive" snow days last year, and I am even more strongly against "forgiving" them the up to 3 weeks of this mandated school closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In most cases, Gov. Whitmer's initial order will have caused students to miss 10 school days because of previously scheduled "spring breaks". If, as I expect, the state decides not to administer the M-STEP this spring, most schools will get 5 of those days of instruction back. Why schools have to disrupt an entire week in order to administer between 6 and 10 hours of tests I will never understand, but that's what has been happening throughout Michigan.

This is primarily a question of educational equity, and secondly an issue of education quality. Relatively few of Michigan's K-12 instructors have any training in developing on-line educational materials, in video filming or editing, or in webcasting. The few who have embraced these technologies have been helping their colleagues, but the resulting efforts are, to be frank, not going to be very good. Better than nothing, to be sure, but not even as good as self-study of a well-designed, recent, on-line text book for those in 6th grade or above who can read at their grade level.

On the equity front, not every school system has provided the technology to their teachers to learn how to effectively deliver their lessons on-line. Not every teacher has the equipment and connectivity to be able to broadcast or post the content they want their students to view. Not every student in every school system is equipped with a device they can use to access any on-line content their teachers provide. And we're not even close to every family having access to broadband at affordable prices, or on contract terms that exclude all for-credit educational content from the provider's data caps.

Until those inequities are addressed by both legislators (on the broadband front) and educators have learned to use computer and webcast technology effectively, ad hoc online classes created in response to school closing should NOT count towards the minimum required hours of instruction. Michigan's legislators should make NO moves to roll the extra funding now provided to educate poor, at-risk, English learner, or special needs students into schools' Foundation Allowance or General Fund until they have addressed the critical need for universal access to "internet as a utility" in order to provide equitable access to high quality education resources all across the state.

Julie
Mon, 03/23/2020 - 10:54am

Funny that everyone complaining about on-line hours not counting, live in areas with good internet service. Up here, in Northeastern MI, internet service is poor, with cable or broadband not available to the majority of the county. I would suggest these people raise heck with their internet providers so they expand their services to rural areas BEFORE ramping up even faster internet for those already served. Once the playing field is evened out, I agree that on-line classes should be counted.