State school restart deal: What it means for Michigan

An agreement between the governor and house leaders finalizes school restart rules just a few weeks before classes are set to begin.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and legislative leaders came to an agreement Friday on a “return to learn” plan that will govern how districts can restart classes amid the pandemic. The state Senate approved the plan Saturday.

While some school superintendents object to the new rules, others say it gives them the flexibility to determine the best way to serve students as safely as possible.

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The state’s largest teachers union, the Michigan Education Association, approved of the plan.

“Legislative compromises are never perfect,” said MEA president Paula Herbart and the head of the Michigan division of the American Federation of Teachers David Hecker in a joint statement. “However, these bills provide students, parents, educators and districts both certainty and flexibility on key issues.”

The deal sets requirements as classes begin. It doesn’t say whether classes should be in-person or online-only (as Kalamazoo’s school district has opted for). But it does say districts should reassess monthly.

The deal seeks to keep parents involved in the decision-making process by requiring school boards to vote on instruction and safety plans every month during open public meetings.

Some education advocates chafed at that rule.

“Why ANYONE would sign-on to legislation that purposefully creates monthly overly-politicized and heated school board meetings is a question I cannot answer,” wrote Bob McCann, the executive director of the Lansing-based Tri-County Alliance for Public Education, on Twitter.

The deal also requires schools to document interactions between teachers and each student at least twice per week thereby ensuring every student gets some personal attention. Interaction rates must be posted online.

Student testing will continue under the rules. It isn’t clear how those tests would be administered.

The state House of Representative is set to take up the legislation Monday.

You can read more at Bridge Magazine.

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