New Council Will Chart Path for Return to School Buildings in the Fall

More than 1.5 million students banished from their school buildings in March as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer set the path for fighting the spread of the COVID-19 virus may see a path back to school in the fall.

Although Michigan has passed 50,000 cases and is nearing 5,000 deaths from the coronavirus, Whitmer said the curve is flattening enough that a return to in-person learning in the fall can at least be contemplated.

That’s why Whitmer on Friday issued an executive order creating the Return to Learning Advisory Council, formalizing a process for determining how schools may be able to reopen in the fall.

The panel – which will be comprised of students, parents, frontline educators, administrators and public health officials – will be tasked with providing the COVID-19 Task Force on Education within the State Emergency Operations Center with recommendations on how to safely, equitably, and efficiently return to school in the fall. The State of Michigan will also partner with a national nonprofit organization called Opportunity Labs to bring national expertise to this project.

“It’s critical we bring together experts in health care and education, as well as students, educators, and families to think about how and if it’s possible to safely return to in-person learning in the fall and how to ensure … students across Michigan get the education they need and deserve,” Whitmer said. “This panel will use a data-informed and science-based approach with input from epidemiologists to determine if, when, and how students can return to school this fall and what that will look like.”

Back in March, Whitmer established the COVID-19 Task Force on Education, which includes key state government agencies, including representatives from MDHHS, MDE, and others. Since then, she has worked with experts in health care and education to protect our students, educators, and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whitmer closed school buildings to students on March 16, and on April 30, she announced that buildings would remain closed for the duration of the school year. The original task force is tasked with recommending a roadmap and framework for school to utilize to plan for various public health scenarios.

Going forward, the task force will be informed by the Return to School Advisory Council, including voices from educators, health experts, and other community stakeholders. The advisory council will gather critical stakeholder feedback on the content of the roadmap.

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The Advisory Council will provide the COVID-19 Task Force on education with recommendations on how to safely, equitably and efficiently return to school in the fall and assemble critical voices from education, public health and communities across the state to identify the key issues schools must consider before opening, including:

  • Performing outreach to ensure the voices of stakeholders are included in the discussion of implementing the 2020-2021 school year in these challenging and uncharted circumstances.
  • Ensuring experts in public health and epidemiology are informing the discussion of safety returning to school.
  • Recommending actions to remove statutory/administrative barriers to delivering education before we are at Phase 6 of the MI Safe Start Plan.
  • Recommending actions to develop and improve systems for remedial support for students who experienced learning loss during the spring and summer.

Dr. Mario Ramirez, Managing Director of Opportunity Labs, a practicing emergency physician and former Acting Director of Pandemic and Emerging Threats the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Ebola epidemic, is happy to be part of the equation.

“We look forward to supporting the Advisory Council in its work to ensure the safest possible return to school in the fall,” Ramirez said. 

Support for this project is being provided by the Council of Michigan Foundations, the C.S. Mott Foundation, and other philanthropic organizations.

Whitmer said she hopes organizing a formal process informed by public health experts will give schools “much-needed direction” heading into the 2020-21 school year.

“I want to thank all of the parents who have been burning the candle at both ends these last few months trying to help their kids stay on track with their schoolwork while juggling their other responsibilities during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Whitmer said. “I know it hasn’t been easy.”

The panel will be made up of more than 20 members representing K-12 administrators and educators, health experts and community stakeholders

Anyone interested can apply for the Return to Learn Advisory Council by going to and click ‘apply now’ under boards and commissions. You will be able to choose Return to School Advisory Council under the appointment information tab within the application. Applications are due by Wednesday, May 20.