Whitmer closes Michigan classrooms for school year due to coronavirus

School learning will continue, but it won’t be in schools, for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. (Bridge file photo)

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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Jim Pearson
Thu, 04/02/2020 - 4:25pm

Thank you Governor for your bold leadership! Keep shutting things down until nothing moves at all for several months, and then we'll get through this Trump-caused pandemic. If only he had been impeached back in February then this virus wouldn't have even gotten here- it was his insistence on building a wall and his racist calls for restricting flights from that great nation of China that let this virus get here in the first place. I hope that Biden wins and then orders all businesses to send their workers to work on what is needed to fight this thing, and Biden orders businesses to pay their workers what they want, and Biden ends all uses of oil and coal and natural gas- then we'll beat this virus for all time. Orange man bad.

Fri, 04/03/2020 - 11:06am

That was brilliant Jim! At first I thought you were serious and meant what you wrote. Then the sarcasm hit me. Unfortunately there are many people who actually have that view and are able to freely walk about, teach our children and vote. Sad but true.

Fri, 04/03/2020 - 7:54am

Around 12% of Michigan students have no interent, many in rural areas have very slow or spotty internet making it difficult to do school work that way. Teachers are going to have to make up lesson plans on the fly trying to figure out the logistics of doing this, I don't expect this is going to turn out very well. The social isolation is taking a toll on some students, I know of an incident of a high school student having an emotional breakdown over being isolated in her house and missing her school friends. The school shutdown was necessary but this is all very sad for people having to deal with it.

Fri, 04/03/2020 - 9:00am

In the Upper Peninsula, internet access is not possible in many areas, nor is cell phone available. 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 the State of Michigan Department of Education Regulations and appropriate Policies and Procedures for Districts this year, and perhaps next year, and then hopefully we can get back to the usual school routines. These emergency changes will be in place in the event there is another national emergency and can be revised as we go along. We can't penalize kids with no internet access or who don't have computers at home. 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.

john chastain
Fri, 04/03/2020 - 1:45pm

I'm sorry, even though I agree with the need to end school for this year and allow seniors to graduate the rest of this is nonsense. Online learning is no replacement for classroom & direct learning. Nor is everyone prepared or able to shift to what is essentially home schooling. You have working class families that are still "working", special needs students whose entire educational progress is tied to the experienced professionals they interact with & students with emotional challenges that are now being left to an equally inadequate version of online therapy. Perhaps by the beginning of the next school year we can have something in place that the majority of us can use to some effect but for now that's not a realistic expectation. I am caring for a grandchild whose mother continues to work. She has a variety of challenges that make school and life in general difficult at the best of times. I can tell you that Ann Arbor public schools are not even close to assisting students like her in the "real" much less in the "virtual" and mental health care in Washtinaw county? I can't say anything that's printable about that. So most of the high achieving families (privileged and pampered) in Michigan will do just fine eh? & the rest of us will be passed by, again.