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K-12 schools closed for remainder of academic year; districts to develop localized plans

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during a press conference Thursday in which she addressed Executive Order 2020-35 that will suspend all face-to-face learning for K-12 schools across Michigan for the remainder of this academic year (photo courtesy Whitmer's press secretary).

On Thursday, April 2, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-35 effectively ending face-to-face instruction for K-12 schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year. Current high school seniors will graduate and other grades will move up. 

Standardized testing, including the SAT and M-STEP, scheduled during this academic school year will be canceled. At a later date, a time in October will be announced for current juniors to take the SAT and other high school students to take the PSAT. 

“This doesn’t mean our kids will stop learning,” the governor advised. “Each district must develop an alternative learning plan for students to continue their education during this time.” 

School districts will be allotted quite a bit of freedom to develop plans for their students for the remainder of the school year. Whitmer said she is cognizant that a “one size fits all” plan is not feasible for the nearly 900 school districts across Michigan. Developed plans are to be “locally driven” to meet the needs of the student body in any given community.

“That means learning by phone or mail or online,” Whitmer said. “That means project-based learning and paper packets, telephone lessons and things that can be used as means of alternative modes of delivering instruction.”

Internet accessibility and proper technology and equipment will continue to be a hurdle for providing equal access to education. 

According to a release, “If the plan relies on some online instruction, the district should ensure every student who needs it has access to an appropriate device with an ability to connect to the internet.

Whitmer said that the students and families that this is a challenge for “will not be penalized” if they cannot participate in the alternative plans presented by their school district. 

School staff and faculty will continue to be paid for the remainder of the calendar year. School districts are to continue to provide meals for families in need and should be “ready and willing” to establish disaster relief childcare centers. School mental health services are encouraged to remain in place “to the extent possible.” 

John Helmholdt, Grand Rapids Public Schools Executive Director of Communications & External Affairs, said in an on-air conversation with WOOD-TV 8 that the district has been anticipating this announcement and is working to provide a custom plan for their students. 

“We’ve been working to develop comprehensive plans for distance learning,” Helmholdt said. “Including how we account for technology and devices that may need to be distributed as well as internet accessibility which may also need to be distributed in the form of wireless hotspots or something else.”

Helmholdt said that this is a significant undertaking but one the district has been “gearing up” for. 

“We want to assure our parents and our students and staff that we’re going to do everything possible to plan for this,” Helmholdt said, while acknowledging that this is an unprecedented move for K-12 districts and there will be “implementation issues.”

According to Helmholdt, GRPS has a nearly $2 million dollar budget to implement their new plans. Additionally, the district has business and philanthropic leaders that have been reaching out and offering assistance. 

“We have to assume we’re moving forward without any additional dollars,” Helmholdt said. In fact, he said that the district has been informed that funding for next year could be “cut substantially.” 

During this challenging time, Whitmer is confident that teachers, “some of the hardest working people” she knows, will continue to meet the needs of their students in providing exceptional education. 

“I know this will be tough,” Whitmer acknowledged. “It will require creativity and hard work and problem solving. But in my time in public service, I have met educators across our state who I know are eager to rise to these challenges.” 

When asked about schools resuming in the fall, the governor said, “We are making decisions right here and now based on the best science and data that we can get our hands on.” Later adding that it would be inadvisable to give a projected timeline for resuming face-to-face instruction.

 “I don’t think we can, with any certainty, say, ‘we need to start precisely on this date,’” Whitmer said.