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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Whitmer closes Michigan classrooms for school year due to coronavirus

With a stroke of a pen Thursday morning, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ended the classroom school year for more than 1.5 million Michigan students, in the latest attempt to curb a pandemic that has brought much of the nation to a standstill.

The order, the outlines of which were first reported Monday by Bridge, shutters public and private K-12 classrooms through the end of the 2019-20 school year. Between now and June, schools are to provide remote learning for students who, along with many of their parents, have for now been asked to stay in their homes.

That remote learning likely will look different from district to district — schools are required to develop their own remote leaning plans and plans must be approved through a school’s intermediate school district. For example, some school districts may ramp up online learning, while others, with students who do not have Internet access in their homes, may rely primarily on printed materials.

Whether that learning will be graded, or is optional for students, will be left up to local school districts, under the order.

Most students will be promoted to their next grade level and high school seniors will earn diplomas just as in normal years, according to the order.

State funding for schools will continue through the end of the school budget year (June 30), and school employees including teachers will continue to receive their paychecks.

More details on the executive order can be read here.

“My number one priority right now is protecting Michigan families from the spread of COVID-19,” Whitmer said in a statement. “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.

“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 initially ordered schools closed from March 16 through April 5, and last week tacked on an additional week as part of a statewide stay-home order that runs through midnight April 13 as the virus continues to spread through the state. 

A least 10 other states have previously closed their schools for the remainder of the school year, most of which have coronavirus outbreaks that are currently less severe than the outbreak in Michigan.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Michigan had the third-most cases of COVID-19 in the United States, with 9,334 confirmed cases and 337 deaths. Health officials say Michigan has yet to reach its peak in infections.

With no vaccine for the virus, the best bet for states is to “flatten the curve” of infections through social-distancing efforts, including keeping school-age children at home. Schools have been closed for almost three weeks, and non-essential Michigan workers were ordered March 23 to stay in 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,” Whitmer said.

Michigan school leaders were quick to support the classroom closure order, even as they warn of possible long-term consequences for student achievement in what could amount to more than five months away from classrooms if schools do not resume until the fall.

Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, vice chair of the Senate Education Committee and a former teacher, said, “Governor Whitmer is right to suspend face-to-face instruction for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year due to the projected course of COVID-19, so that schools and families can solidify plans for continuity of learning away from the classroom.”

“Michigan’s leaders — including policymakers and school leaders — must swiftly develop and invest in a comprehensive educational strategy to address COVID-19’s disruption to teaching and learning,” said Amber Arellano, executive director of the nonpartisan Education Trust-Midwest, a Michigan-based policy and advocacy organization.  

“Just as summer leaves a learning loss, COVID-19 will leave a significant learning loss that requires an educational recovery that is just as important as immediate health concerns.”

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