In sweeping move, Whitmer closes all K-12 school buildings
Updated: Thursday, March 12, at 11:05 p.m.:
Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday evening that the state is closing all K-12 buildings to students beginning Monday, March 16.
It includes all public, private, and boarding schools. The schools are set to reopen on Monday, April 6.
“This is a necessary step to protect our kids, our families, and our overall public health,” said Whitmer in a statement. “I am working with partners across state government to ensure educators, parents, and students have the support they need during this time, and to ensure our children who rely on school for meals have access to food. I know this will be a tough time, but we’re doing this to keep the most people we can safe. I urge everyone to make smart choices during this time and to do everything they can to protect themselves and their families.”
Other states, including Ohio, Kentucky, and Maryland have taken similar sweeping measures as the threat of coronavirus increases.
Following the announcement, AFT Michigan, a union of about 35,000 K-12 educators across the state, released the following statement from its president, David Hecker:
While this is unfortunate news, we want to thank Gov. Whitmer for taking action. This health crisis deserves all necessary precautions to protect students, school employees and families across Michigan. We will be communicating with our members and elected and public health officials throughout this process to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible. This is a time to come together as schools and communities and do what we can to help one another and protect public health.
Earlier in the evening, state health officials announced an additional 10 presumptive positive COVID-19 cases in the state, bringing the total number of cases to 12.
Original post: Thursday, March 12 at 10:00 p.m.
School districts have begun closing for extended periods in response to the coronavirus outbreak in Michigan, with new presumptive positive cases identified Thursday evening bringing the total so far to twelve.
Other districts say they are considering closing.
Ann Arbor Public Schools was among the first to announce an extended closure. The district will send students home after a half day on Friday, and plans that they will not return until April 6th.
Superintendent Jeanice Swift says it was a grave day, to be forced to make such a serious and significant decision. But she says pandemic and disease experts at the University of Michigan and Washtenaw County Health Department convinced her it's necessary.
"The coming and going in and out of the school building in a very close face-to-face environment is exactly the kind of encounter that transmits this kind of illness," she says.
Swift says it quickly became apparent it was not possible to track the possible coronavirus exposures among the district's 18,000-plus students, teachers, parents and others, especially in a community with so many international connections.
She says closing schools is a necessary part of protecting the community, keeping the death rate from coronavirus under 1%, and "flattening the curve" of coronovirus spread, so hospitals are not overwhelmed with massive numbers of COVID-19 patients experiencing severe respiratory distress at the same time.
Swift says the district is "far along" in its plans to offer online learning to students, including those who do not currently have internet or computers at home. She says the district is also working on a plan to distribute meals to lower-income students under the National School Lunch Program.
Other districts that announced an extended closure until at least April 6th include Dexter Community Schools and Saline Area Schools. Still other districts in the county said they were considering shutting down for a time, and said students should plan to bring all their belongings, books and study materials home on Friday.
The closures in Washtenaw County districts are in stark contrast to Kent County. County and public health officials along with school administrators called a last-minute press conference on Thursday to announce they were NOT closing schools.
Detroit Public Schools Community District closed school on Friday, while administrators consider an extended closure over the weekend.
"While this is unfortunate news, we want to thank Gov. Whitmer for taking action. This health crisis deserves all necessary precautions to protect students, school employees and families across Michigan. We will be communicating with our members and elected and public health officials throughout this process to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible. This is a time to come together as schools and communities and do what we can to help one another and protect public health."