LANSING, Mich. – Several weeks ago, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said all Michigan schools should offer an in-person learning option by March 1. As that deadline nears, she offered 20 reasons why that’s the right move for the state.
On Feb. 10, Whitmer doubled down on her insistence that students return to the classroom, saying districts should offer as much in-person learning as possible.
“We are strongly encouraging districts provide as much face-to-face learning as possible, because it is just crucial for the success of our kids,” Whitmer said that day. “Especially our youngest kids. Especially kids who are from disadvantaged circumstances, kids with special needs or English language learners, in particular.”
She spent several minutes Wednesday talking about why in-person learning is right for the state, from its importance to children to her confidence in safety protocols.
Here are the reasons she listed:
Importance of in-person learning
- Schools are cornerstones of healthy, vibrant communities.
- A school environment provides social and emotional skills that are foundational to children’s development. Those traits are difficult to develop without peer-to-peer interaction.
- Face-to-face instruction is critical to learning. A significant loss of classroom time has long-term consequences on a child’s long-term development.
- Tens of thousands of vulnerable children in Michigan are at risk of falling through the cracks, unless concerted efforts are made to catch them up.
- There have been “disheartening impacts” on children’s mental and physical health since their lives were “upended” in March.
- Anxiety and depression rates are up, according to the CDC.
- Child immunization rates are down, according to the CDC.
- Schools are often the first place that children receive a vision and hearing screening to address basic barriers to learning. Both services have been on pause during in-person learning.
- Staff members who are trained to detect and address child abuse and neglect are unable to do so remotely.
- Without schools, the economy is hamstrung. Working families have been spread too thin over the past year, often taking on the roles of parent, teacher and employee at the same time. Parents rely on schools as places for their children to learn while they’re working inside and outside their homes.
- Some parents -- especially women -- have had to step away from workforce to care for their children and aid remote learning, Whitmer said.
- Massive job losses amidst the economic downturn have forced 2.4 million women -- disproportionately women of color -- out of the workforce since last February.
- Transitioning to remote learning has exacerbated equity gaps statewide that officials have been working to narrow. Students who are economically disadvantaged, require special education, experience housing insecurity or are learning English as a second language need in-person learning opportunities more than others, Whitmer said.
- Michigan schools have the infrastructure to deliver the required services and be the best place for children to learn and grow, she said.
- With proper precautions and the right resources, the risk of spreading COVID-19 in schools can be mitigated.
- Studies suggest younger children are not a major source of COVID transmission to peers or adults.
- Michigan State University researchers found there is not a correlation between schools being open and community spread of the virus.
- Michigan has seen few large outbreaks in pre-K-12 schools and very little evidence of outbreaks due to in-person learning.
- Over the course of the pandemic, the state has learned more about the virus and has adjusted accordingly to lower the risk of spread.
- Medical experts have created a set of “best practices” for schools to follow to prevent infection and minimize the spread of COVID-19 and its variants. Wearing masks, socially distancing and washing hands are among the precautions.