There was a flurry of news activity on Friday surrounding the online learning districts are pushing to deliver for students and how the state was going to count that toward requirements for student contact time this school year.
The short version:
There’s a lot that the state doesn’t know yet that we need to figure out. Right now, we need to stay focused on everyone’s health and safety, provide certainty for school employees and districts where we can, and make long-term decisions about what’s best for students as we know what the path ahead looks like.
The long version:
Friday morning, an MDE memo about instructional time set off questions and frustration among educators and parents alike who are working hard to keep students engaged during the school closure caused by the coronavirus outbreak. That memo stated (correctly) that, “There is no mechanism to earn instructional time during a period of mandated school closure.”
MEA President Paula Herbart responded by reminding who can develop such mechanisms: “Those requirements are set by the Legislature, which is why we’re working hard to get the State House and Senate to return to Lansing to take action on continued pay for ALL school employees and forgiveness of time during this closure. If you haven’t already, please contact your legislators and urge them to take that action.”
Later in the day, State Superintendent Michael Rice issued a press statement to provide greater clarity on the memo, focusing on how state law and equitable access to education were prompting MDE’s stance.
“Equitable access issues exist across our state – north to south and east to west,” the release stated. “These access issues include the lack of internet connectivity for some families and schools, and the lack of resources, including devices for some students and staff. Additionally, there are access issues for students with different types of learning needs. These access issues create inequitable educational opportunities for children across our state.”
Among the legal issues raised, Rice pointed to existing laws around instructional days and attendance – laws that could be changed by the Legislature.
“With this public health emergency growing, the legislature will need to relax Michigan Merit Curriculum high school graduation requirements, teacher and administrator evaluation requirements, and other legal requirements,” Dr. Rice said. “It will also need to ensure that all public school employees, salaried and hourly; all contracted service providers, instructional and non-instructional; and all substitute staff members be paid during this period of emergency. This is an unprecedented time.”
In the early evening, Gov. Whitmer followed that up with a news release of her own, clarifying the situation from her standpoint.
“As you know, the situation has changed rapidly over the course of the past ten days,” Whitmer said. “We do not know what the future will hold, but we are absolutely committed to ensuring the needs of our students, parents, and families are met as we navigate these uncharted waters. I will be working in the coming days to ensure our seniors graduate and that no child is held back as a result of our ability to provide face-to-face instruction during the COVID-19 school closure.
“To teachers, administrators, and support staff – I thank you for stepping up and helping your students and families. To students and especially parents, hang in there. We will get through this.”
MEA will continue to be engaged with Gov. Whitmer, Supt. Rice, MDE and the Legislature to address these and other educational issues as they develop throughout this crisis, said President Herbart.
“More conversations need to be had – with the input of the frontline educators we represent – about how best to help all students, including those with special needs and those without access to online learning,” Herbart said. “Right now, the best advice is to keep students engaged academically as best we can at home, to be as patient as possible while new information comes to light, and to heed public health experts on what’s needed to slow this outbreak.”