Whitmer says schools should return to in-person learning. Education advocates want state support to do it.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said school districts that only teach online classes should return to in-person education, recognizing the negative impact distance learning has had on children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whitmer, in an interview on Thursday in WDET’s “Detroit Today”, said 98% of the school districts in the state are open right now, but he wants to work with the districts that are still online to “get the kids back to school.” “. Republicans asked the governor to call for a return to in-person learning, and Whitmer said in-person learning is critical to students’ social development and mental health during Wednesday’s state-of-the-art speech.

“Part of the message is also that in two weeks, I will be introducing the budget to make the largest state investment in public education in our state’s history,” Whitmer said Thursday. “This is how we give districts the tools they need to reduce class sizes, to envelop students with support, whether it’s counselors or social workers to help children get back on track. This disruption of this pandemic has had a huge impact on their academics, their social skills, their mental health, etc.

Related: Whitmer calls for tax cuts, funding for historic education, and bipartisan unity in the State of the State speech of 2022

Whitmer struck a deal with the Republican-led legislature in August 2020 to allow school districts to choose whether to offer in-person, distance, or hybrid education. His administration recommended that high schools temporarily suspend in-person activities in April 2021, but left the decision to local districts.

With the exception of the Detroit and Flint school districts, Michigan school districts have generally returned to learning in person, but the occasional use of distance learning, often due to staff shortages, is common in many districts. of the state. Some districts, including Ann Arbor public schools, have temporarily used virtual learning for students in specific buildings based on data from the COVID-19 case.

The governor said in her state of the state speech on Wednesday that distance learning “is not as fulfilling or conducive to raising a child.”

Legislative Republicans are pushing for the governor to go beyond encouraging in-person learning and are calling on districts that are continuing distance learning to go back to class.

House Education Committee Chair Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Township, called the Detroit Public Schools Community District’s continued reliance on distance learning “stubborn neglect,” adding that the governor is “complicated.”

“The DPSCD shirks its moral obligation to educate thousands of children, many of whom have special needs, and some of Michigan’s poorest students and families,” he said in a statement. “This is unacceptable, at the same time the Michigan legislature has approved record funding for our schools. This should affect all Michigan taxpayers. “

Representative Graham Filler, R-DeWitt, said he appreciates Whitmer’s support for in-person learning, but said the administration needs to take a stronger stand as some districts continue to use remote options.

“It was an absolute battle … not just here in Michigan, but across the country, to keep schools open,” he said. “I want you to use that overbearing pulpit to tell the schools to please be open. Because the kids just got it on the chin. “

Michigan Education Association spokesman Thomas Morgan said schools should be allowed to make their own decisions about when to return to education in person. The teachers’ union is also calling for more support in the state budget to address the staff shortage.

“We believe these are decisions that are best left to local communities because they have the best sense of what the situation is on the ground in their communities,” said Moore. “As you’ve seen, the vast majority of districts across the state are open to in-person education, and that’s great. In-person education is clearly superior to virtual learning, no one could really argue otherwise. As long as education can be provided safely, we fully support the opening of schools if that is the decision they make locally. “

District Superintendent of the Detroit Public School Community Nikolai Vitti had already announced last week that online learning is ending. Vitti has set the goal of January 31 to return to classes in person.

The return to in-person learning was based on lowering Detroit’s infection rate. Employees and students will need to consent to the COVID-19 test.

Flint Community Schools hoped to return to in-person education on January 24, but announced that the district will continue distance learning indefinitely in response to high transmission rates in Genesee County.

Democratic House Leader Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township, said it was imperative that students learn in person every day, but noted that schools are still facing significant challenges to achieve this, including understaffing and mandatory attendance requirements for the official count of the day as a school day.

Updating that policy and channeling federal funds into testing programs that allow students and staff to stay in class if they test negative following exposure to COVID-19, as well as testing, vaccine distribution and educational awareness to students and parents would go a long way. to make learning in person easier, he said.

“We know there has to be parental trust to get kids back to school, to learning in person and we know we need to have staff available,” he said. “Those are direct actions we can take that can help keep the kids in school, bring those dollars home and put them to work.”

Robert McCann, executive director of the K-12 Alliance of Michigan, said understaffing is a significant obstacle to maintaining full-time in-person schools. Some districts have had to temporarily switch to virtual learning in response to the shortage of substitute teachers and bus drivers.

“We need to try to come up with a solid budget as quickly as possible to support that work if we are to keep schools open not just for the rest of this year, but make sure the staff shortage doesn’t continue into the fall,” he said. McCann.

Whitmer said its 2023 school aid budget will focus on providing schools with more funding to recruit and retain staff.

“People are leaving the profession, as well as our health care, which is why we handed checks directly to teachers last year, we made more investments in our schools so they could make a living doing this important job. “said Whitmer. “There will be even more investment when you see me unveil the school aid budget in two weeks. We are putting the finishing touches on this, but it will have a really big investment in recruiting and retaining the ranks of our educators. “

Morgan, the spokesperson for the MEA, said teachers must receive a salary increase.

“If you don’t compensate people fairly, they’ll look for other jobs,” Moore said. “We are seeing people with advanced degrees who are qualified teachers decide that they need to support their families and therefore are moving into the private sector and changing careers. We are seeing talented young people decide not to attend a graduate course or leave the field after the first two years due to all the stress they are subjected to. “

Morgan and McCann also suggested that legislators should suspend standardized testing and teacher assessments. McCann said preparing for the test stole valuable time needed to get students back on track after their education was disrupted by the pandemic.

“What value is it showing? A standardized test is for one standard school year. We haven’t had it for three years, “McCann said.” You can’t track a student’s year-to-year progress at a time when he gets anything but a normal school year. He won’t tell us anything. last school year hasn’t told us anything, so why take the time? Why take away precious time in class from their academic, social and emotional support they need to take a test that won’t give us any useful information?

Advocates of school choice argue that in-person learning should be child’s play, pointing out the discrepancies between in-person attendance in private schools and districts that still rely on distance learning.

“It’s just inexcusable at this point. Two years later, all the data we have now says that schools shouldn’t be closed, that there is so much harm to children academically, mentally and physically, “said Corey DeAngelis, national research director for the group. American Children’s Federation based in Washington, DC.

DeAngelis said parents across the country have been clamoring for in-person learning for months, noting that many schools that still use distance learning options have received thousands of dollars in pandemic-related aid from the federal government.

“If they can’t figure it out by now, give the money to the parents and let them figure it out for their children,” she said.

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