Governor Gretchen Whitmer is strongly encouraging all K-12 schools in Michigan to reopen for some in-person instruction by March 1. The move comes as the state is set to offer the coronavirus vaccine to teachers starting next week.
Many schools have been fully remote during the pandemic. The governor will not seek to require in-person classes - her unilateral emergency powers were curbed by a court ruling - but she wants them at least to be offered.
Speaking at a news conference Friday afternoon, Whitmer says it’s important kids get back to the classroom.
“The value of in-person learning for our kids is a measurable and we must do everything we can to help our kids get the great education they need and to do so safely.”
Whitmer says in-person learning is most important for younger students. But the governor says she won’t punish schools that don’t re-open because that should be a local decision based on their circumstances.
Paula Herbart is the president of the Michigan Education Association. She says the union is glad the state’s plans allow districts to make their own decisions on when and how that will happen.
“We’re talking about local areas making local decisions for their local communities and having educators’ voices be part of those conversations.”
Herbart says administrators, instructors, and support staff have learned a lot about how to make classrooms safe, and her members are anxious to return to working with students in person.
“Things like appropriate spacing of desks, wearing masks, a co-horting of students, and adequate ventilation significantly decrease the risk of virus spread in schools, and is how many students across the state are already engaging in in-person learning,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive, said.
Many schools have gone to fully remote instruction during the pandemic. State health officials say personal protection equipment and hand sanitizer will be made available to school districts. Khaldun and Whitmer say they expect most teachers and school workers will be vaccinated by March 1