A message from the MEA President about efforts to keep students and school employees safe
This evening, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced new restrictions across Michigan to fight the growing COVID-19 outbreak. While difficult, these steps are necessary to stop the spread of this virus and save lives.
Relative to schools, the governor announced that starting Wednesday in-person instruction will be suspended for three weeks at high schools, community colleges and universities, which have been experiencing greater transmission rates. Sports and extracurricular activities will be suspended for all schools, while buildings will be allowed to remain open for services to meet basic student needs (such as food service, internet access for virtual learning needs, school-based health care, childcare, and in-person instruction for special education and ELL students). In-person instruction with appropriate safety measures will be allowed to continue at PK-8 grades, due to lower transmission rates in those buildings.
We appreciate the governor taking these important steps in our communities, especially recognizing that proper precautions including mask wearing, social distancing and limiting gatherings will make a huge difference in terms of health and safety within the four walls of our schools. However, we do not believe that suspending in-person learning only for older students goes far enough. With the number of new cases setting records daily, we believe it’s in the best interest of all students and school employees for in-person learning to be temporarily suspended for all grades.
Later this week, we will be releasing a new round of MEA member polling data about the intersection of COVID-19 and education. Those numbers show roughly 4 out of 5 educators – across grade levels and classifications – are concerned about the safety of in-person instruction. As Michigan works to get the latest wave of coronavirus under control, we need to go further to protect students and school employees. In particular, as many districts are currently considering decisions to increase the amount of in-person learning, we will advocate to delay those transitions and, for those already conducting in-person learning at lower grade levels, redouble efforts to ensure everyone’s safety – including alerting MIOSHA and public health authorities of issues as they are identified. We also call on districts to immediately cease requiring educators to show up in-person in schools to teach virtual classes, in light of the clearly stated goal of conducting work remotely if feasible.
These are frightening and stressful times for everyone in public education – from employees to parents to students. MEA is committed to doing everything in our power to help, particularly continuing to advocate with the governor, the legislature and individual school districts so the voices of educators are heeded in decision making and that health and safety be priority number one in our schools.