Gov. Whitmer orders all K-12 school buildings remain closed through end of school year; Muskegon County superintendents emphasize learning will continue at home

As Michigan faces the third highest number of deaths from Covid-19 in the country, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday morning that all K-12 school buildings in Michigan will remain closed through the end of the school year in order to curb the spread of the contagious respiratory disease. 

“I know there is a lot of anxiety about how we’re going to move forward and meet the needs of our kids; I feel it too,” Whitmer said during a Thursday morning press conference. 

“But this is the best thing we can do for the health of our children,” Whitmer continued. “…This will ensure more kids and educators will return to school healthy and happy at the start of the next school year.”

To see the full executive order detailing the closure of all school buildings, please click here.

The more than 900 school districts in Michigan are now formulating their own plans for the rest of the school year. The Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators and the Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers are currently developing a template that districts can use to help them formulate their plans. The template will be available April 3.

Each of the district’s plans will detail how educators will provide opportunities for remote learning and how schools will manage and monitor students’ progress. Every district must have its plan approved by their regional intermediate school district before it is implemented.

In Muskegon County, districts will be informing students, parents, educators, and the general public about their plans in the coming days and weeks. 

Our hearts are heavy with the loss of so many important moments, especially for our graduating class of 2020, but we recognize this action is a needed step to limit the spread of the coronavirus,” school superintendents from Fruitport, Holton, Mona Shores, Montague, Muskegon, Muskegon Heights, Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, North Muskegon, Oakridge, Orchard View, Ravenna, Reeths-Puffer, and Whitehall said in a joint statement.

The Muskegon County superintendents emphasized in the same statement that while remote education “cannot replace the rich, face-to-face learning that takes place inside our classrooms, our staff are ready for this challenge. Many students will not have access to the high-tech learning devices and robust online connections they enjoy within our schools. Our staff will do what they can to reach these students as well.”

During the governor’s Thursday press conference, Whitmer praised educators and parents for their work during these unprecedented times.

“In my time in public service I’ve met educators across our state who are eager to rise to this challenge; our teachers are some of the hardest working people I know,” Whitmer said. “I will do everything in my power to support them and guide them through this.”

Whitmer added that she is grateful to parents “who continue to work from home and take care of your kids.”

“These last few weeks have been tough for Michiganders…our families, our workers and all of our mental health has been stretched,” Whitmer said. “This is a challenge unlike anything we’ve ever faced before.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at Thursday’s press conference. Photo courtesy of the governor’s office

Muskegon County superintendents asked parents to assure their children that “learning will continue at home, even though our school buildings are closed.”

Let your children know their teachers will be reaching out to them over the next few weeks,” the superintendents said in the previously mentioned statement. “Read all emails and listen to messages sent from the school and check with your older children to find out if they are participating in learning opportunities.”

As part of the governor’s decision, she emphasized the following points: 

  • Schools should continue to provide mental health care services for students, to the extent possible, and should be ready and willing to help efforts to establish disaster relief childcare centers.
  • School districts will also continue to provide meals for families who need them during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • If any schools have unused personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies or other materials, they are allowed and encouraged to donate them to organizations that could put them to use.
  • School districts will have the flexibility to adopt a balanced calendar for the 2019-2020 school year and/or to begin the 2020-2021 school year before Labor Day without having to seek additional approval.
  • Teachers and school employees will be paid for the remainder of the school year. Student teachers will still be able to get a temporary certification and current teachers will still be able to get their certifications renewed, even if they can’t meet all the requirements due to COVID-19.
  • All Michigan high school seniors will be given the opportunity to graduate this year so that they may make a successful postsecondary transition. 
  • All standardized tests previously scheduled for the remainder of the school year, including the M-STEP and the SAT, will be canceled. There will be a date in October for rising high school seniors to take the SAT and for other high school students to take the PSAT.

 The decision to keep school buildings closed comes at a time when there are 9,334 Covid-19 cases in Michigan—the fourth highest in the United States. There have been 337 deaths from Covid-19 in the state, the third highest in the nation.

“We expect to announce more cases and more deaths later today,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said at Thursday’s press conference. 

“No one is immune,” Khaldun continued. “There are people who are young, who do not have underlying medical conditions who are getting sick and dying.”

There are 18 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Muskegon County and two deaths, according to public health officials.

Both Whitmer and Khaldun noted that Covid-19 cases continue to rise in the state, and the peak is likely still weeks away.

“The next several weeks are going to be difficult, some of the most difficult we’ve ever faced,” Khaldun said. 

Covid-19 is a highly contagious respiratory disease that can cause, among other symptoms, a fever, dry cough and shortness of breath; it is 10 times more fatal than the flu, according to Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.  In the worst COVID-19 cases, patients’ lungs will fill with so much fluid that no amount of breathing support can help, and the patient dies.

The  virus is believed to spread primarily between people who are in close contact with one another and is passed through respiratory droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Health officials have also noted the virus may remain on surfaces, such as plastic and stainless steel, for days.

Because COVID-19 is a new disease and is highly contagious, it presents a slew of issues for a world fighting to contain the global pandemic: humans have not built up an immunity to it, there is no vaccine for it yet, and its symptoms often don’t present themselves until two to 14 days after being exposed to the virus—which potentially allows a carrier of the disease to expose it to others without realizing they are doing so. All of these factors allow for the exponential growth of the number of COVID-19 cases. Such an explosion of cases then overwhelms health care systems, which we’ve seen occur in places like Italy, New York City and Detroit.

Because of all of this, the most effective way to fight the spread of the disease is by people limiting their exposure to others—in other words, by staying home. This, Whitmer said, is why she ultimately decided to keep the school buildings closed.

“Our numbers continue to climb every day,” Whitmer said at Thursday’s press conference. “No one is immune from this virus. People of all ages and all walks of life are testing positive across our state every single day. This virus moves easily from person to person.”

Story by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. You can connect with her by emailing muskegontimes@gmail.com or on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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