At least 6 Michigan public districts will start the school year completely online

By: - July 27, 2020 3:38 pm

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Despite a push from Michigan Republicans and the President Trump administration to reopen brick-and-mortar schools this fall, several Michigan public school districts are planning to start the school year online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At least six districts — Lansing School District, Ann Arbor Public Schools, East Lansing Public Schools, Waverly Community Schools, Okemos Public Schools and Melvindale-Northern Allen Public Schools — have formally announced plans to parents for completely virtual instruction.

The Michigan House of Representatives approved four education bills last week that would require in-person learning for all students in kindergarten through the fifth grade. The bills also set regulations around e-learning days, virtual courses, attendance, standardized testing and school funding.

The package was sent to the Senate Committee on Education and Career Readiness and from there will go before the Senate for a vote.

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If Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs the bills into law, which she is unlikely to do because they largely go against her own “Return to School Roadmap,” schools that decide to go completely virtual will be at risk of losing state funding.

Trump also has threatened to withhold federal funding from schools that do not offer any in-person instruction.

Under Whitmer’s MI Safe Start plan to reopen the economy, if any area of the state falls back into phase 1, 2 or 3, schools in those regions will not open for in-person learning and all instruction will be done remotely.

Right now, six of Michigan’s geographic regions are in Phase 4 of Whitmer’s MI Safe Start plan to reopen the economy, with most businesses open, while the Upper Peninsula and the Traverse City region are in Phase 5, in which gyms, theaters and other higher-risk facilities are open. 

“We’re going to continue to monitor the numbers,” Whitmer said on July 7. “If they keep moving up, we’re going to dial back if we have to, and it’s the last thing any of us wants.”

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As of Monday, the state reports that 78,507 Michiganders have tested positive for COVID-19 and 6,154 have died from the virus. Cases of the virus have been reported in all 83 of the state’s counties. 

The conversation around schools this fall is still fluid for many districts as they track COVID-19 data and wait to see directives from the state and federal government.

Michigan has 890 public and charter schools, all of which are primarily in charge of setting their own plans for instruction with some guidance from the state. 

The Advance has compiled a list of Michigan school districts that have publicly announced plans to hold all instruction online for the first part of the school year. 

This list may not be comprehensive and more changes are expected to be announced in the coming weeks, as districts solidify plans for the upcoming school year. The Michigan Department of Education is not tracking plans for each district.

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Lansing School District

The Lansing School District Board of Education announced plans on July 16 for a completely virtual start to their upcoming school year. It was the first district in the state to announce an all-online plan for the fall. 

The plan is to conduct the first marking period, from Aug. 31 to Nov. 6, completely online for all students. Every student in the district who needs a device to make online learning possible will be provided one.  

The school board will vote on the virtual learning plan during an Aug. 6 meeting.

Ann Arbor Public Schools

Ann Arbor Public Schools, the fourth-largest school district in the state with 18,500 students, announced its “Reimagine Learning” plan on July 22.

The school board will vote to adopt the plan during Wednesday’s board meeting.

The district’s website states that when developing the plan, health and safety was the number one guiding principle. Online classes are set to start on Sept. 8, but the plan does not have a set date for when students would return for in-person learning. 

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East Lansing Public Schools

East Lansing Public Schools Superintendent Dori Leyko issued a recommendation to the school board that the school year begins with complete online instruction.

Leyko suggests the virtual instruction goes through at least Sept. 30. 

From there, the district will take two to three weeks to transition back to in-person classes, with the youngest students and students with special needs returning first.

All students in pre-K through second grade will receive iPads and all students in third through 12th grade will receive either a Chromebook or a laptop.

Leyko’s plan also says that no employees will be laid off due to the transition to online learning, and instead will be reassigned as needed.

The school board is scheduled to meet Monday to be briefed on the superintendent’s recommendation, which will need approval by Aug. 15.

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Waverly Community Schools

Via a Facebook post, Waverly Community Schools announced it will be holding all instruction online for the first part of the school year until Sept. 30. 

The post says the district will evaluate public health data and determine the direction the school district will take after Sept. 30, and added, “It is possible that online learning will remain an option throughout the 20-21 school year.”

The district is aligning its plans with the governor’s executive order, and if the order is not extended, the district will apply for waivers to continue online learning. 

If the district does reopen for in-person learning after Sept. 30, it will phase in with small groups of students and will follow the governor’s Return to School Roadmap. 

The district will be providing all students with an “electronic device.” 

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Okemos Public Schools

Okemos Public Schools Superintendent John Hood recommended to the school board to implement a fully online model until Oct. 30, regardless of what phase of the MI Safe Start Plan the district is in. 

Hood said there would need to be a two to three week transition period if the district is able to offer in-person learning later on in the fall, but did not specify what that transition period would look like. 

The school board will have to vote to approve Hood’s plan. 

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Melvindale-Northern Allen Public Schools

In a July 20 letter sent to parents, Kimberly Soranno, the Melvindale-Northern Allen Public Schools Superintendent, said that the Downriver area district will begin the school year completely online. 

“At some point when things become more stable in our state, we can easily transition back into classroom learning,” Soranno wrote. 

She said that the governor’s plan does not allow for social distancing in the district’s schools to be “safe at this point in the virus outbreak.”

“Returning to school in late August with the heat, wearing a mask will not be conducive to the health and welfare of our students or our staff,” she added. 

Soranno said all students will be issued the technology they need for online learning. 

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.