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Whitmer: Schools may open in the fall with strict safety guidelines

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says she’s optimistic Michigan schools can resume in-person learning this fall, but she is stressing they’ll need to make sure students and staff are safe.

“We’re going to continue forging ahead,” she said, adding: “We’ve gotta get this right.”

Whitmer said during a press conference Wednesday morning that she plans to release an executive order and document June 30 outlining what is required of and recommended for schools before reopening. The executive order will apply to all of Michigan’s 1.6 million students, including those in private schools.

She warned that schools may have to close mid-year if COVID-19 cases spike in their areas, adding that those decisions may be made by region or by even county, if state officials determine that county-level data is sufficiently reliable.

In March, Whitmer ordered schools closed through the end of the school year to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Last month, she announced that a Return to School Advisory Council will make recommendations for a safe return.

Following the return-to-school recommendations won’t be cheap, Whitmer warned, reiterating her call for the federal government to help plug the $2.39 billion hole that COVID-19 caused in the state’s schools budget.

“We recognize that these requirements will cost money, and that’s why preserving funding for K-12 is my number one priority,” she said.

Michigan will set minimum safety requirements for reopening schools, but Whitmer said individual districts will be able to set stricter standards.

Districts across the state have already begun releasing plans for returning to school in the fall. A draft plan for the Detroit Public Schools Community District envisions shorter school days, daily temperature checks for all students, and six feet of physical distance between students and staff at all times.

Three months of online classes have taken a toll on students’ learning across the country, education experts agree. Greg Talberg, a high school teacher in Howell Public Schools who sits on the reopening council, said he hopes to offer improved learning opportunities in the fall.

“As an educator, I know that we can and we must do better next year,” he said.

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