Whitmer to announce decision Thursday on state's K-12 schools

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she expects to make an announcement Thursday on the status of the school year for K-12 students after she shut schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whitmer said she hadn't "made the final decision yet" about ending the school year months before the academic year ends.

"So I’ll be making some decisions today and tomorrow and we’ll be announcing something on Thursday," she told MLive on Tuesday.

When asked about the factors she is weighing, the governor said: "We have 1.5 million kids in Michigan who are in our schools. We have a virus that’s ravaging our state and taking our kids out of school was absolutely the right decision. But now we have to come up with a solution to meet their educational needs. With the variety of districts that we have, they have different challenges, they have different access to resources, and so all of these are pieces of the issue that we have to solve."

A representative for Whitmer's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night on the expected announcement.

This is an empty classroom at West Bloomfield High School on Friday, March 13, 2020.

As part of state efforts to help stem the spread of the coronavirus, Whitmer shuttered all K-12 schools on March 12 through April.

According to numbers the state Department of Health and Human Services released Tuesday, Michigan had 7,615 confirmed coronavirus cases, up 1,117 from a day earlier, and 259 total deaths. 

It ranked fourth among U.S. states for the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday afternoon, behind New York, New Jersey and California, according to the Johns Hopkins University & Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive, predicted Monday that the number of cases in Michigan wouldn't peak for "several weeks." The state, she said, was still in the "early stages" of the virus' impact.

In a statement Friday, Whitmer's office said under a plan to be announced this week, Michigan high school seniors will graduate and no child would be held back as the result of a school district’s ability to provide face-to-face instruction during the COVID-19 closure.

That was a few hours after the governor told a Detroit radio station it's "very unlikely" schools will open this academic year.

"We are working diligently to come up with a plan to meet the needs of our kids," Whitmer told WWJ-AM (950). "Anyone who's watching globally what's happening with this pandemic probably knows it's not going to be this year."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Rice last week called on lawmakers to grant K-12 districts waivers of instructional time mandates, Michigan's third-grade reading law and statewide assessment requirements to help schools cope with closures caused by coronavirus pandemic.

Late Friday, two members of the State Board of Education sent Whitmer a letter saying she should use her authority within the state’s Emergency Management Act so students can have continuity through distance learning and the ability to obtain credit for that learning.

Two state lawmakers who are former teachers have called for an early end to the school year given the projected course of COVID-19 spread and the need to provide certainty  for districts and families.