Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order suspending K-12 in-classroom education for the remainder of the school year.
The new order comes after a continued rise in Michigan COVID-19 cases and Whitmer’s request Wednesday to extend the state of emergency and disaster by 70 days from the date of the resolution.
Each district will be responsible for developing an alternative learning plan for students to continue their education during this time. The plans will be locally driven and personalized by district to reflect the best interests of the kids in their communities.
"Districts must make sure that their plans are appropriate and accessible for families in their schools," Whitmer said. "If the plan relies on some online instruction, the district should ensure every student has access to an appropriate device with an ability to connect to the internet."
“The biggest challenge is that with the disparate educational system that we’ve had in Michigan, that there are very different challenges across our state and it’s not just flipping a switch and saying everyone can go online because broadly it’s just not available in the areas,” Whitmer said. “Not every child has access to a device. Not every school district has the ability to devise and instruct an online course that meets the needs of the kids.”
Whitmer said students and their families will not be punished if they are unable to participate in a school's alternate learning plan. Her goal is to ensure all districts have a plan so that graduating seniors graduate on time.
All educators, secretaries, para-professionals, custodial and cafeteria workers will be paid for the remainder of the school year.
“I know that there is a lot of anxiety about how we’re going to move forward and meet the needs of our kids," Whitmer said. "I feel it too … but this is the best thing we can do for the health of our children, for the tens of thousands of educators in Michigan who work in our schools. This will ensure more kids and educators will return to school happy and healthy at the start of next school year. It will protect more families from the spread of COVID-19, and it will help us return to life sooner."
This decision was made based in communication with Chief Medical Executive and Chief Deputy Director for Health Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, as COVID-19 continues to spread across the country.
Before signing the order, Whitmer said they needed to make sure they had a plan that took into account the 1.5 million children in Michigan schools, 56 ISDs across the state and over 900 school districts with individualized assets and challenges. This is the first step in moving forward to create district-specific plans to meet the needs of each student which they serve, Whitmer said.
“Gov. Whitmer has put in place sweeping changes to allow for waivers that will ensure quality instruction takes place through a variety of methods," many Michigan education associations said in a joint statement following the order. "Educators across the state have already begun working to identify best practices and pool resources so that no one will have to figure this out alone."
Whitmer said there may be a very real possibility there is a lag between when parents return to work and students return to schools, but at this point, decisions being made are centered around what is in the best interest for students and school employees.
Moving forward, Whitmer said they recognize the large number of students with special needs across Michigan and want districts to support all Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs, to the full extent they are able.
“We recognize that there are unique challenges and situations where you can’t have person-to-person contact and that that is something that is an issue,” Whitmer said.
If a student requires occupational therapy services, additional sessions may be needed after the state of emergency ends. These services will not be canceled, though they may need to be delayed.
Teachers across the state have already stepped up to find creative ways to continue reaching their students, Whitmer said.
“I know this will be tough and it will require creativity, and hard-work and problem solving, but my time in public service, I’ve met educators across our state who I know are eager to rise to this challenge,” Whitmer said.