Whitmer: Michigan students can return to class if coronavirus stays steady

Michigan’s K-12 schools will reopen in the fall, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says. That doesn’t mean a return to normal. (Bridge file photo)

Michigan’s public and private K-12 schools will open in the fall for in-person learning if the status of the coronavirus pandemic remains the same as it is now or improves, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Wednesday.

But no one should expect classrooms to look normal in September, and there likely will be notable differences – from remote learning to the number of students in classes and on buses – among various school districts.

Whitmer will release an executive order regarding minimum safety standards for schools June 30, along with recommendations for the state’s more than 800 local school districts.

“I am optimistic that we will return to in-person learning in the fall,” Whitmer said in a news release. “Schools must make sure to enact strict safety measures to continue protecting educators, students, and their families.”

The state’s 1.5 million K-12 students have been shut out of school buildings since mid-March in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, which through Tuesday, is confirmed to have sickened more than 60,000 Michigan residents and killed about 5,800.

School leaders have been making contingencies for the 2020-21 school year, and a few have announced detailed plans. Most schools are waiting for state recommendations on how to safely reopen.

“The most important thing we can do when developing a return to school plan is closely examine the data and remain vigilant in our steps to fight this virus,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Chief Deputy for Health and Chief Medical Executive Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said in a news release. 

“This is a big step, and we will remain flexible to protect everyone who steps foot in a Michigan school.” 

Whitmer created a 25-person advisory council to make recommendations on reopening schools safely. The council is developing minimum requirements for all schools, as well as recommendations that individual districts can consider if they wish to go beyond the minimum safety standards.

“Our number one goal on this advisory council is the health and safety of our students and educators,” said Tonya Allen, president of the Skillman Foundation and chair of the Return to Learn Advisory Council, in a news release. 

“We will remain vigilant and flexible and closely examine the data as we continue to make recommendations to the governor. This is a crisis unlike any we’ve seen before, and we are committed (to) working closely together to ensure we get this right.”

At a Wednesday news conference, Allen said guidelines will ensure safety and should give parents confidence, but acknowledged "We will all be navigating a new normal together, so we may need to be nimble and agile, because something may change, especially as we're still battling the coronavirus pandemic."

Kevin Polston, superintendent of Godfrey-Lee Public Schools near Grand Rapids and a member of the advisory council, said allowing in-person instruction in phase four with safety rules is "common sense."

"It's imperative to act in a manner that is rooted in safety to avoid a potentially devastating impact a false start could have on our education and economic systems,” Polston said.

The reopening of schools is based on a premise that the COVID-19 pandemic stays at its current status or improves. The number of infections and deaths have decreased significantly in the past month. If infections spike, Whitmer could pull the state back from phase 4, and reconsider whether it is safe for students to congregate in school buildings.

Some school leaders aren’t waiting for the state’s recommendations on how to safely reopen schools.

In West Bloomfield, a suburb near Detroit, K-12 students will attend classrooms two days a week, and have online instruction three days. In Detroit, elementary and middle school students will come to brick-and-mortar classrooms daily, but high schoolers won’t.

And in Hart in rural West Michigan, everyone will be in classrooms every school day.

Hart Superintendent Mark Platt told Bridge his district will provide plexiglass shields for secretarial desks, eliminate water fountains and boost cleaning procedures, but that it’s important for the community for children to be in school.

Hart is in Oceana County, which as of Tuesday had 108 confirmed coronavirus cases and 3 deaths.

 “Do you really want your child to come to school for two days and stay home the rest of the week? Because that’s what’s being discussed in Lansing,” Platt said. “Do you want your child to participate in a sport and you not being allowed to watch it? That’s being considered.

“When I compare the COVID situation to the poverty and trauma and social emotional [price of being out of classrooms], I just have to have the kids in school.”

In Detroit, hit hard by the pandemic, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is taking a more cautious approach, with high school students possibly attending classes on alternating weeks, and auditoriums and cafeterias converted to classrooms for more social-distancing.

Vitti said Detroit Public Schools Community District – the largest in the state – “can’t wait that long (until June 30) to move forward with plans. I don’t think the state understands the logistical and operational challenges that need to be thought through in advance of implementation.”

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.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Kevin Grand
Wed, 06/17/2020 - 12:32pm

Schools WILL need students in seats if they want any hope of staying viable. The federal government won't be bailing them (or Lansing) out.

Too many people are way past fed up with the medical security theater posing as adhering to the "best data and models" and will either Home School or sign their children up for online learning instead.

This article also presumes that the governor will even have any authority to crank out a litany of XO's in September.

We have yet to hear from the Michigan Supreme Court along with the soon-to-be circulating petition to abolish her from operating w/o the blessings of the Michigan Legislature.

Thu, 06/18/2020 - 8:35am


It warms my heart to see how many people are beginning homeschooling in the fall. Hopefully this movement continues to grow, as it had been under Obama and now Trump. It's also great to see that it is people from all walks of life, with all manner of views who are homeschooling - Desipte the message from the wacko left that is often claiming that homeschoolers are those darned right-wing nutjobs - It's just not true. My neighbors, who moved from the city to the country, are now planning to homeschool their children. MORE parental involvement and LESS state involvement in a child's life is the best gift you could possibly give them, and it greatly increases their chances of success.

Jim tomlinson
Thu, 06/18/2020 - 8:36am

She’s done a great job under unique circumstances no guv has faced since polio. Your home school claim is absurd. The public values public education despite the gop zeal to hurt and privatize it out of existence. The ferderal govt should bail out states. Its what govt is for. There has not been a conservative policy of value to the the public writ large since millikin. Guv Whitmer enjoys nearly 70% approval rating. Good for her and good for the public

Kevin Grand
Fri, 06/19/2020 - 7:06am

Obviously your knowledge of EXACTLY what the federal government's responsibilities are, have been limited what you were taught in public school, Mr. Tomlinson.

The powers of the federal government are few and defined. As a matter of fact, here they are:


Notice that they DO NOT include cleaning up the mess caused by democrat governors.

Wed, 06/17/2020 - 1:56pm

It's very unfortunate that Gov. Whitmer and her huge committee of experts on safely reopening schools won't have their guidance ready until the day before public schools must submit their budgets for the 2020-21 school year. That guarantees that all that expertise and effort to come up with reccomendations will not have been considered in creating the first set of budgets schools will make. Schools are forced by the lateness of the Governor's guidance to waste time and effort creating budgets and re-opening plans a minimum of twice.

Why didn't the Governor move to form her expert committee a month or so earlier? She had plenty of time to fly to New York to appear on talk shows and political shows. Why did she not pay attention to budget deadlines - especially the ones for schools?