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Whitmer hopes for some form of in-person learning in fall

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Friday she hoped Michigan's K-12 students will be able to return to some form of in-person instruction in the fall. 

Whitmer expressed the aim during a Friday press conference in which she also announcedan advisory council to determine how Michigan's schools will reopen in the fall. 

"I'm not saying definitively that it's going to be this date certain," Whitmer said of the schools reopening. "The facts are going to dictate and the actions of the residents of Michigan are going to dictate."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she hoped Michigan's K-12 students will be able to return to some form of in-person instruction in the fall.

Students, educators, administrators and parents will be among those appointed to the Return to Learn Advisory Council, the governor's office announced Friday. 

School buildings have been closed since March 16, but the next phases of the state's reopening plan will allow schools groups to begin meeting in some capacities.

Whatever plan for school reopening develops from the task force will parallel the state's six-phase reopen plan called MI Safe Start, Whitmer said.

“I want to thank all of the parents who have been burning the candle at both ends these last few months trying to help their kids stay on track with their schoolwork while juggling their other responsibilities during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic," she said in a statement. "I know it hasn’t been easy."

The more than 20-member panel  task force will include outreach to stake holders, consultation of public health experts and the development of ways to help students who may need remedial support after the weeks of break. People can apply for the council by visiting michigan.gov/appointments. 

The C.S. Mott Foundation, the Council of Michigan Foundations and other philanthropies will fund the project. 

According to the executive order creating the council, its members must refer all legal, legislative and media contacts to the executive office instead of responding on their own.

Whitmer's Friday briefing included prayers from four religious leaders — a Catholic priest from Grand Rapids, a Detroit Baptist minister, a Jewish rabbi from West Bloomfield and a Muslim imam from Dearborn Heights.

The governor asked them to pray for Michigan in the wake of Thursday's demonstration at the Capitol.

"...Now is not a time for division or for hatred and certainly not a time for violence," she said, while acknowledging many residents are understandably frustrated. "Now is a time to pull together.  Now is a time for unity.”

The religious leaders delivered prayers for hope and recovery, although Imam Mohammad Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom included an acknowledgement of the national recognition for Whitmer, who is a co-chair of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's campaign.

"Thank you, Lord, for blessing our governor, Gretchen Whitmer, to be a national rising star and for blessing her with great wisdom as she is overcoming the struggles of this tragic time...," Elahi said.

The press briefing comes as the state learned Friday it faces a $3.2 billion shortfall in the current year budget and a $3 billion shortfall next year — a huge hole that will require budget cuts or federal aid to fill.

As of Friday, the state had 50,079 confirmed coronavirus cases and 4,825 deaths from the virus

eleblanc@detroitnews.com