Governor unveils plan to reopen schools

Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday unveiled a much-anticipated plan to reopen K-12 schools in the fall.

The 63-page MI Safe Schools plan lays out requirements and recommendations for school districts depending on how severely the coronavirus is affecting them.

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Currently, most of Michigan is in Phase 4 of the governor’s six phase MI Safe Start plan for resuming normal activity in the state. That means that the number of coronavirus cases are in decline but still high in the region.

“These requirements and recommendations will not always be easy to implement. But they’re absolutely necessary,” said Whitmer at a press conference. “These measures are designed to increase the likelihood of keeping Michigan schools open.”

A Phase 4 school reopening would look very different from a normal school year:

  • Staff will be required to wear face masks except when eating
  • Students in K-5 will have to wear masks when not in class; all other students will have to wear masks except when eating.
  • Students and staff will have to be screened before entering a school building.
  • Indoor assemblies will be banned.
  • Indoor sporting events will be banned; outdoor sporting events will be limited to 100 spectators.
  • School facilities will be required to be cleaned throughout the school day.

There are also items listed as “strongly recommended” and “recommended.”

Notably absent? A requirement that class sizes be reduced to allow distance between students.

In Phase 4, the guidelines “strongly recommend” that schools space students six feet apart in the classroom, but actual implementation is left up to individual school districts.

Michigan high schools have an average size of 29.9 students per class as of 2018, and large school districts like Kalamazoo and Portage often have limited space for classes.

The new guidance from the state gives districts a template to work from, but many are already planning for their own reopening.

Kalamazoo Public Schools is holding a series of listening sessions to hear concerns from the public. Portage Public Schools has already released preliminary plans for returning to classes in the fall.

Any plans for reopening will require a significant effort from local districts. A new budget plan from the state will allocate $256 million to support those efforts.

You can read more at Bridge Magazine.

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