State Plan Coming for Fall Reopening of Schools

One of the biggest questions Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has gotten since she shuttered schools earlier this year has been, “When will schools reopen?”

On Wednesday, Whitmer gave the first part of the answer, announcing that Michigan schools in phase 4 of the MI Safe Start reopening plan can resume in-person learning, as long as they adhere to strict safety measures.

Whitmer also said she will release an executive order and a “robust document called ‘Michigan’s Return to School Roadmap’” on June 30. The document will provide details on what will be required and what will be recommended for schools.

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Whitmer said the roadmap will apply to traditional, public, charter, private and parochial schools.

The governor also highlighted the need for support and flexibility from the federal government to help ensure resources for students and educators.

“Our students and educators have made incredible sacrifices these past few months to protect themselves and their families from the spread of COVID-19,” Whitmer said. “Thanks to our aggressive action against this virus, those who have done their part to flatten the curve, and the heroes on the front lines, I am optimistic that we will return to in-person learning in the fall.”

Such a move will require schools to enact strict safety measures to continue protecting educators, students, and their families, Whitmer said.

“I will continue working closely with the Return to Learn Advisory Council and leaders in health care to ensure we get this right, but we also need more flexibility and support from the federal government,” she said. “This crisis has had serious implications on our budget, and we need federal support if we’re going to get this right for our kids.” 

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The Return to School plan will align closely with the MI Safe Start Plan. The governor will consider the six phases of the MI Safe Start Plan and the Michigan Economic Recover Council’s 8 regions of the state to determine when, where, and how face-to-face instruction can resume.

Districts, students, staff and families must be nimble and be prepared to move backwards if there is evidence of community spread of the virus. 

The roadmap will set the minimum health and safety requirements, although districts may choose to enact more aggressive ones in consultation with local public health officials. These minimum requirements will apply to all schools, including traditional public, charter, private, and parochial schools. 

“Our number one goal on this advisory council is the health and safety of our students and educators,” said Tonya Allen, President and CEO of the Skillman Foundation and Chair of the Return to Learn Advisory Council. “We will remain vigilant and flexible and closely examine the data as we continue to make recommendations to the governor. This is a crisis unlike any we’ve seen before, and we are committed working closely together to ensure we get this right.” 

Whitmer created the COVID-19 Return to School Advisory Council May 15 to identify the critical issues that must be addressed, provide valuable input to inform the process of returning to school, and to ensure a smooth and safe transition back to school.

On June 3, the governor announced a group of 25 leaders in health care and education to serve on the council, chaired by Allen, which includes community members, educators, parents, and students who will work closely with the governor as she continues to put the health and safety of our students and educators first.