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Whitmer: K-12 in-person classes canceled for school year

Districts must provide localized lesson plans

HANCOCK — With face-to-face instruction over for the rest of the school year, local K-12 districts are preparing alternative plans to educate students.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer released an executive order Thursday extending the closure of K-12 schools, which had been set to resume in-person classes April 13. Michigan becomes the 10th state to end school for the year.

Under the order, individual districts will create plans for remote learning tailored to the needs and resources of students there.

Whitmer’s order allows for the suspension of classes to end if statewide restrictions on gatherings are lifted. Given the timing of the pandemic, she said Thursday, that seems unlikely. COVID-19 infections are “still on the upswing,” she said, and may take a month or more to reach their peak.

As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, there were 9,394 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 337 deaths in Michigan, Whitmer said. By this afternoon, those totals had risen to 10,791 (14.9% increase) and 417 (23.7%).

“If we don’t hit our apex until late April or mid May, the school year is pretty much over at that juncture,” Whitmer said Thursday. “And that’s why we can’t wait to see what happens. We’ve got to start making plans to meet the needs of our kids.”

Districts had already been anticipating such a move, said Copper Country Intermediate School District Superintendent George Stockero.

“We knew that the governor was talking about closing schools for the rest of the year,” he said. “All of my local schools have started to put together different options for students, whether that’s online, or packets.”

Each district must create a learning plan for the remainder of the school year. Those plans must be submitted to and approved by the ISD.

Templates for the applications will be given to districts by Friday, the state said. Districts will need to spell out their remote-learning plans and how schools will manage and monitor their progress.

Districts will also outline ways parents and guardians can learn more about the local plan.

Students and families will not be punished if they are unable to participate, Whitmer said Thursday. Seniors will also be able to graduate.

Locally, plans will have to take into account the lack of internet access in some parts of the Keweenaw, Stockero said. For families with larger numbers of school-age children, they may not have enough devices for children to reach their lessons, he said.

As of 2018, 89.3% of children in Houghton County lived in homes with access to the internet, the highest rate in the four-county area, according to the Michigan League for Public Policy Kids Count Data Center. Houghton was followed by Baraga (84.7%), Ontonagon (82.1) and Keweenaw (73.7%).

Districts must also include how they will educate special-needs students, Stockero said.

“I am confident that every school will do everything in their power to get some time of education to all our students,” he said.

The Legislature also reached an agreement with Whitmer that also forgives 15 days of instruction on top of the nine snow days allotted. Districts are to use resources from the waived days to compensate their workers.

“As a retired teacher, it’s been moving to see all of the creative ways families have found to support their students over the past few weeks,” State Rep. Greg Markkanen said in a statement. “I appreciate all of the hours parents and teachers are putting in to ensure their students do not fall behind on their studies.”

As they had been doing since the closure, districts will continue to make meals available for students to pick up each week.

Districts will still pay employees through the end of the school year, Whitmer said Thursday.

The order means students will not undergo standardized testing this year, including the M-STEP and SAT, Whitmer said.

As for the fall, schools will also have more latitude with their calendars, either adopting a balanced calendar for the 2019-20 year or starting the 2020-21 year before Labor Day without a waiver.

Even before coronavirus became an issue, two districts had already applied to start before Labor Day because it falls so late this year, Stockero said. He was unsure how many more are considering it.

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