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Education, health leaders join school reopening panel

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Twenty-five leaders in education and health care will serve on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's COVID-19 Return to Learn Advisory Council, state officials announced Wednesday,

The advisory council was created by Whitmer on May 15 to formalize a process for determining how schools may be able to reopen in the fall. The council includes students, teachers and principals as well as union leaders, a psychologist, health officer and medical director.

“This group brings together experts in health care and education, including students, educators and parents to think about how to ensure the more than 1.5 million K-12 students across Michigan get the education they need and deserve,” Whitmer said.

This is an empty classroom at West Bloomfield High School on Friday, March 13, 2020. Students were asked to stay home, while educators used Friday to prepared to to teach students online due as a coronavirus precaution.

“On behalf of our kids, their families and the more than 100,000 educators in our state, we must all work together to get this right. I know this group is prepared to carefully examine the data and consult with experts when helping me determine what is best for our kids.”

The council will advise the governor and the COVID-19 Task Force on Education and will develop recommendations on how to reopen K-12 classrooms.

Tonya Allen, newly appointed chair of the Return to Learn Advisory Council and president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation, said the top goal of the council is to ensure the protection of students and educators.

"We are proud to serve as an advisory body to Governor Whitmer as she continues working hard on behalf of Michigan families everywhere. This is a crisis unlike any we’ve seen before, and we are committed working closely together to ensure we get this right," Allen said. 

The council will recommend actions to remove statutory and administrative barriers to delivering education before Phase 6 of the state's Safe Start Plan and help develop and improve systems for academic support for students who experienced learning loss during the spring while K-12 buildings were closed, state officials said.

The council includes four members of the Michigan Legislature: Sens. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, and Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, and Reps. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis, and Sheryl Kennedy, D-Dearborn. It will also include a public health workgroup that will be chaired by Denise Fair, the chief public health officer for the city of Detroit.

Other appointments to the council include:

--Angela M. Blood Starr, regional school health coordinator for the Calhoun Intermediate School District

--Nicole Britten, health officer for the Berrien County Health Department

--Johanna L. Clark, principal of Frankenmuth High School

--Mary R. Gebara, trustee with the Okemos Public Schools Board of Education and chairwoman of staff outreach for the Okemos Education Foundation. 

--Dominic A. Gonzales, student in the Detroit Public Schools Community District

--David Hecker, president of AFT Michigan

--Paula J. Herbart, president of the Michigan Education Association

--Melissa Isaac, director of education for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan

--Elizabeth S. Koschmann, licensed psychologist and an assistant research scientist in psychiatry at the University of Michigan

--Stephen McNew, superintendent of the Monroe County Intermediate School District

--Vic Michaels, assistant superintendent of student services and athletics for the Archdiocese of Detroit Catholic Schools and director of the Catholic High School League

--Justin S. Michalak, assistant superintendent for special education for the Macomb Intermediate School District

--Nicholas J. Paradiso, III, vice president of government relations for National Heritage Academies

--Lisa M. Peacock, health officer for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan

--Kevin Polston, superintendent of Godfrey-Lee Public Schools

--Dr. Gwendolyn R. Reyes, assistant clinic director at the Hurley Children’s Clinic, director of the pediatric residency program at the Hurley Children’s Hospital, medical director for the Flint Community Schools Wellness Program, and a clinical assistant professor in the Michigan State University Department of Pediatrics and Human Development

--Robert Shaner, superintendent of Rochester Community Schools

--Anupam Chugh Sidhu, instructional technology manager for Wayne RESA and president of the Plymouth-Canton School Board

--Travis Smith, elementary school principal in Marquette Area Public Schools

--Joshua J. Smith, school counselor for Western School District in Parma, a lead facilitator for the Michigan College Access Network, and a counselor at A Healing Place

--Stephanie M. Sutton, central clinical infection preventionist for the Beaumont Health System

--Gregory Talberg, teacher with Howell Public Schools

--Ridgeway H. White, president and CEO of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation

--Kymberli A. Wregglesworth, teacher with Onaway Area Community Schools

jchambers@detroitnews.com