On April 2, by Executive Order 2020-35, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer closed school buildings for the remainder of the school year. While this news was disappointing for many, it did not come as a big surprise given the way this virus continues to spread.
The executive order contains several provisions that impact the way students in public schools are educated now and next school year. Private schools will continue to operate under their own jurisdictions, as they have been, and are not subject to the requirements listed below. While school buildings are closed, there is an expectation that learning will continue in a variety of ways. Here’s what you need to know about the executive order, and how it will affect your young learner:
What will my kid’s school district do now?
Each district will submit for approval a Continuity of Learning plan to their intermediate school district (ISD),which is typically organized by county. The plans will include a number of assurances, including how schools will continue to provide education and access to resources for their students and assurances that the school will pay staff and contractors, while engaging parents as partners and ensuring students are at the center of all efforts. Each school district has the ability to create its own plan, in accordance with this template. School staff are permitted to use school facilities to providing distance learning,as long as they practice social distancing.
Will the current school year be extended?
Michigan school districts are required to provide 180 days of pupil instruction. Per the executive order, the initial 13 days of the emergency, which was first declared March 10,will be counted as instructional time toward those180days. Schools can also apply to the Michigan Department of Education for additional waivers, but must begin to execute their Continuity of Learning Plans by April 28 and are encouraged to do so sooner if possible. There are up to an additional 14 days, a combination of 5 PD days, 6 snow days and 3 other days for which schools can apply to MDE for additional waivers, giving a total of 27 days waived before schools would have to lengthen the school year.
How about next school year?
Schools may move to a balanced calendar or start before Labor Day for the 2020-2021 school year without additional approval. These types of changes typically require approval from the Michigan Department of Education.
Will our school district still receive funding?
During this time, schools will continue to receive state aid as long as they execute an approved Continuity of Learning Plan.
Does my child have to take standardized tests? And can they still move to the next grade?
All state standardized assessments and educator evaluation laws are waived for the 2019-2020 school year. Credit can be given to students, especially to graduating seniors, by schools at their discretion. All students can be evaluated for promotion and schools can use the information available to make those decisions.
In the coming days, we can expect to read politicized viewpoints,as some of these provisions are in direct contrast to proposals made by other policymakers. I’ve heard two TV news reports presenting their interpretation of what the order said;different channels presentingit in different ways. As parents, we must checkthe facts,advocatefor our priorities and make the very best out of a bad situation. Regardless of politics, I believe as an educator and a mother that this is the best solution in a dire situation. We will all have to accept changes and inconvenience,but this solution allows us to keep the priority on overall health, while also prioritizing education. While it does not make up for lost experiences like graduations, awards ceremonies, end of year parties and other things we all look forward to celebrating together, it does protect our kids and provide some assurances for their learning. We will need to support our schools and also provide constant and constructive feedback. This is new territory for all of us, but the priority has to be on ensuring that students are receiving the resources and education that they need.
Here’s what you should be prepared for:
What your child is doing will be different from what other students of the same age are doing. This kind of variance is nothing new, but there may be even more differences now because of how schools are responding. Each district will have its own plan that will be approved and monitored by the Intermediate School District (ISD). It is highly likely that schools, even in neighboring districts, will utilize online resources, personal virtual interactions and printed resources to different degrees. Schools can also choose what to assign credit for and what “counts.”This is all at the discretion of the school district and ISD.The template is common,but the implementation will vary. While schools in the same district may see minor differences in how various teachers choose to implement the plan, schools in different districts might have vastly different approaches. There is also some concern about ensuring that all students have equal access to all resources. In the case of digital access, there are several companies and organizations providing devices and WiFi hotspots to families in need.
Parents need to be aware of what is happening and advocate if they are not satisfied, while ensuring that their expectations are reasonable. Now, more than ever, parents need to ensure that their students are getting the education and resources that they are supposed to get. If you find that the school or a teacher is not providing what has been promised, you can approach the teacher, school, the district superintendent or the ISD. It is important to maintain balance in our approach and realize that while it is important and necessary to keep learning going, we also have to set reasonable expectations. Remember that in a traditional school year, regular instruction tends to taper off around this time. Spring break and standardized testing take much of April up. May and June, for high school students, are dominated by AP testing and for younger students, fieldtrips, movie days and other fun activities. While I know that it’s frustrating to accept this reality,given that our students have been out of school since mid-March, and in some cases, have done very little since that time, it is also the normal cadence of a school year.
Learning in this way is different and will require support and patience for all involved. This experience will not be the same as face-to-face instruction and may seem easier or less challenging for some students. Some students may feel as though there is a lot of busy work while others may feel as though there is not enough to do. Seize this as an opportunity for your children to learn how to adjust to something new and learn how to focus their attention outside the direction of a teacher and the confines of a traditional classroom. Also, recognize that the amount of time students spend on schoolwork may be significantly less than a traditional day, which is OK. If we take a standard 7-hour school day (8a.m. to 3 p.m.) and assume that 2 hours are used for transitions, lunch and breaks, that leaves 5 hours. Assume that another 1to 2 hours is spent on classroom management, routines, and other operational tasks that occur in a classroom. That leaves about 3to 4 hours for actual teaching and learning, which is a good goal for an elementary-age child now. Older students can adjust accordingly, especially given that there are generally higher expectations for independent work outside of class.
Be aware and cognizant about your child’s mental health, no matter how old they are. I worry about the mental health of our students as they are engaged in a prolonged period of isolation from friends, activities and normalcy. Assuming that we return to school in the fall as planned, they will have experienced almost 6 months of disruption. Add to this tension the responsibility of having to manage your own learning and do things in a way that may not be easy or comfortable…it can be a lot for any of us. Make sure you’re spending time with your children with no other agenda and that they are not rotting away in front of a screen. Try to schedule some virtual play dates or meetings so that kids can see each other. Having some sort of schedule is very important.Kids like structure and routine and not having these elements can lead to anxiety, which can manifest in many ways. Having some basic plans for the day can help children of all ages maintain some sense of control and responsibility over their day.
Know that next year will look different from what we’ve come to expect,and prepare your child and yourself. We do not know what next school year will bring or howand when we will return to school, but we do know that we will return to a new normal. Schools will grow and morph through this period and it is likely that this experience will inspire more widespread changes. Be ready to embrace what comes to us. Schools need to do things differently so that we are all more prepared for the next crisis, or the next snow day, which are likely to look very different after this experience. Students may feel some anxiety about going back to school and as though they are not prepared. Reassure them that they are ready and that schools will be ready to help them be successful. We are all in this together.