Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unveiled the MI Safe Schools Roadmap, which extensively details required and recommended safety protocols for returning to in-person school instruction in the fall.
The plan was created with the Return to School Advisory Council and the COVID-19 Task Force on Education, and provides recommendations across mental and social-emotional health, instruction and operations within each phase of the MI Safe Start Plan.
While the entire state is in Phases 4 or 5, it is still possible to regress to Phase 3 if case numbers drastically spike, according to the governor.
“These requirements and recommendations will not always be easy to implement, but they are absolutely necessary,” Whitmer said. “These measures are designed to increase the likelihood of keeping Michigan schools open.”
To support school planning and implementation efforts, Whitmer announced $256 million in new funding for COVID-19 relief, including the purchasing of PPE, hiring of additional staff, health and wellness services and technology for students to learn while staying home.
The new funding is part of a bipartisan budget agreement by the governor, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, House Speaker Lee Chatfield and other leaders.
Schools must devise three separate plans for returning to instruction in the fall — one for Phase 3 of the MI Safe Start Plan, one for Phase 4 and another for Phase 5.
If schools are in regions of the state in Phase 3 of the MI Safe Start Plan, in-person instruction is not permitted. In this case, all instruction must be remote. Thus, athletics and busing operations would be suspended.
The road map recommends for schools in Phase 3 to implement a mental health screening for all students by a trained professional.
It also advocates for the district-level creation of Return to Instruction and Learning working groups to gather feedback from people about their experiences with remote learning, to revise the district’s remote learning plan to incorporate feedback and to share the district’s remote learning plan with all involved stakeholders.
For schools in areas advanced to Phase 4 come fall, masks will be required in school buildings.
“The council looked at multiple measures that would actually mitigate the transmission of the disease, and we decided that of all the mitigation strategies, the most powerful one was a mask,” Tonya Allen, chair of the Return to School Advisory Council and president and CEO of The Skillman Foundation, said.
Masks are required in hallways and common spaces for all pre-K-12 students. Masks are only required in classrooms for students in grades 6-12, if they can medically tolerate them.
If K-5 students remain with their classes throughout the school day and do not come into close contact with students from another class, they do not need to wear masks, though they are still strongly recommended.
Staff that is medically able to tolerate masks must always wear them, except during meals.
Additionally, the MI Safe Schools Roadmap requires schools to cooperate with local public health departments concerning protocols for screening students and staff.
Regarding athletics in Phase 4, compliance with all guidance published by Michigan High School Athletic Association, or MHSAA, and the National Federation of State High School Associations, or NFHS, is required.
Students, teachers and staff must use proper hygiene techniques before and after every gathering, and all equipment must be disinfected before and after use. Handshakes, fist bumps and other “unnecessary contact” are forbidden.
Indoor weight rooms and physical conditioning activities that require shared equipment are suspended. Outdoor physical conditioning activities, however, are allowed so long as social distancing is adhered to.
Large-scale indoor spectator events are also suspended, with such events being limited to 100 people. Spectators are allowed provided that facial coverings are used by observers and six feet of social distancing can be maintained at all times.
Whitmer said she has called on the MHSAA to postpone fall sports that are incompatible with social distancing to the spring and to move more individual sports such as track and field, tennis and golf to the fall. A decision is expected by July 25, according to the governor.
Other requirements for schools in regions in Phase 4 include the prohibition of indoor assemblies that bring students from more than one classroom together and the reinforcement of proper hygiene techniques.
Schools in areas advanced to Phase 5 have minimal requirements.
Masks are not required in these schools, though they are still strongly recommended.
“Phase 5 is the least restrictive,” Allen said. “It offers highly recommended practices that, if implemented by schools, will protect students and educators.”
According to Allen, Phase 5 recognizes that there is no one-size-fits-all solution and retains the ability of local districts to manage their schools in accordance with their particular needs.
The road map strongly recommends schools designate a quarantine area for students who feel ill during the school day. Students who present symptoms of COVID-19 at school should be placed in this area with a surgical mask until they can be picked up.
Indoor spectator events are limited to 50 people, and large-scale outdoor stadium events are limited to 250 socially distant people.
Indoor weight rooms and physical conditioning activities are allowed, but unnecessary physical contact is not advised.
Allen said she hopes the state has entered Phase 5 of the Safe Start plan by the time school starts in the fall.
For complete and extensive information about what is required and recommended for schools reopening in the fall, the MI Safe Schools Roadmap can be found here.