Whitmer: K-12 schools can reopen; rules coming June 30
By DAVID EGGERT
LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday that K-12 schools can reopen for in-person instruction as long as Michigan’s successful containment of the coronavirus doesn’t lapse, subject to safety rules she will announce June 30.
Schools closed in March and ended the academic year with online or other remote learning. The governor said schools may resume physical instruction during phase 4 of her restart plan. All of the state is in that stage or, in northern Michigan, where COVID-19 cases and deaths are low, a step further along.
School typically starts in late August or early September. A previously issued order by Whitmer gives districts more flexibility to adopt a year-round calendar for the 2020-21 school year or start before Labor Day as a way to help students catch up.
“Our intent is to resume in-person instruction, to do so in a way that is safe but also to make sure that as we get back to schools, as we return to work, that we have very clear guidance to what the minimum expectations are,” Whitmer said during a news conference.
In less than two weeks, the governor will issue an order providing details on what will be required to reopen schools and what will be recommended. She said schools will be free to implement more aggressive standards than what the state mandates.
Public schools face a July 1 deadline to adopt their budgets despite great uncertainty over state revenue, which is down substantially due to lower tax revenues. Districts are planning for cuts despite the expectation that they will need more aid to have smaller, socially distanced classes and to buy masks and equipment during the pandemic.
The Democratic governor and Republicans who control the Legislature are pushing Congress for flexibility to use federal COVID-19 relief funding to fill holes. Work on the next state spending plan, which takes effect three months after school budgets do, is delayed due to a later tax deadline and other factors, frustrating school officials.
“I can’t plan to purchase PPE equipment, increase sanitization efforts and undertake the host of other measures that will be necessary to ensure the safety of my students for in-person learning without having any idea how much money our schools will have to spend or what requirements we will be in place with regard to spending it,” said Ken Gutman, superintendent of Walled Lake Schools and vice president of the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education, a group of Detroit-area superintendents. “Schools are in crisis and legislators in Lansing cannot continue to ignore it.”
Whitmer said she was assured by people at the federal level that Michigan will get flexibility and some additional funding.
Also Wednesday, the governor — whom Republicans have accused of going too far with some stay-at-home restrictions or not restarting the economy more quickly — pointed to data showing Michigan’s success in curbing the virus as it surges in many other states. Michigan was an early hot spot and has reported the eighth-highest per-capita death rate among 50 states and Washington, D.C., but the situation has improved markedly.
As of Tuesday, Michigan had recorded roughly 30 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over the previous two weeks, which was one of the lowest figures of any state.
“We are seeing spikes across the country, in Texas and Arizona and more — the Carolinas,” she said. “But because the vast majority of Michiganders are doing the right thing by staying home and staying safe and staying informed, we’re not yet seeing another spike here and that is good for everyone and for our economy.”
Whitmer continued to urge people to wear a face covering, saying the risk of transmitting the virus is low — 1.5% — if someone with COVID-19 has one and comes into contact with another mask-wearing individual.
She said she will extend a state of emergency beyond Friday, contending it is needed to keep restrictions and other coronavirus-related orders in place.