School reopening plan heads to gov’s desk

K-12 teachers and Michigan Caucus Of Rank-and-File Educators members rallying at the Capitol calling on Gov. Whitmer to suspend in-person instruction, Aug. 6, 2020 | Allison Donahue

In a series of votes, the Michigan House on Monday passed a state plan for school reopenings during the COVID-19 crisis, sending the bills to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk.

HB 5911 passed in an 81-25 vote; HB 5912 passed in a 77-29 vote; and HB 5913 was approved in a 73-33 vote during an unusual Monday session. 

The Senate had approved the set of bills during an even rarer Saturday session. The package is the result of a bipartisan education deal that Whitmer and legislative leaders announced late Friday laying out requirements for local school districts.

Districts would be required to complete a monthly public review of their educational plans and conduct benchmark assessments in the fall and spring. Additionally, the legislation temporarily waives the required 1,098 hours of instruction per school year for districts and reconstructs how the student count will be done for the upcoming school year. That’s important because most school funding in Michigan is determined based on how many students are in the district.

Senate OKs bipartisan education legislation, receives backlash from Dems, ed groups

The House initially passed a package requiring students in kindergarten through the fifth grade to attend school in-person. In the negotiated package, in-person learning has been reduced to a recommendation, much like it was in the governor’s “Return to School Roadmap” released in June.

The Senate, in largely party-line votes, approved HB 5911 23-14, and HB 5912 and HB 5913 23-15.

Several Democratic members offered amendments that they said would help local districts, but all failed. State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit), a former Detroit Public Schools Community District teacher, offered an amendment to lengthen student attendance report requirements to provide more time for school districts to convey numbers to the state because “no one size fits all.”  

“It’s important to go slow, so we can go fast,” Gay-Dagnogo said. 

Teachers feel ignored in school reopening decision-making

The Tri-County Alliance for Public Education, a metro Detroit organization composed of school district superintendents described the return to school plan as “rushed.”

“It is unfortunate that so many legislators chose not to listen to the continuing requests of educators to forgo plans that are unhelpful and only serve to create additional barriers to success,” said Robert McCann, executive director. “With the first day of school just weeks away, the focus now must be on getting back to work immediately to fund schools and cover the significant costs associated with a safe reopening to ensure children across the state have access to the education they deserve.”

House Education Committee Chair Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Twp.) said that she had not heard from education groups until recent days. She called their dissent “ridiculous and patently false.”

Both major teachers’ unions, the Michigan Education Association (MEA) and American Federation of Teachers Michigan (AFT), did support the compromise.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.