Governor Gretchen Whitmer is strongly encouraging all K-12 schools in Michigan to reopen for in-person instruction by March 1, as the state is set to offer the coronavirus vaccine to teachers starting next week.
Many teachers have expressed hesitancy to go back to the classroom given the chance for infection, but infectious disease experts cite data that show that face to face instruction in schools is safe when proper precautions are followed.
“Medical experts and epidemiologists have closely been following the data and know now that schools can establish a low risk of transmission by ensuring that everyone wears a mask and adapting careful infection prevention protocols,” said Whitmer in a news conference on Friday.
Due to a court ruling that limited her executive powers, the governor cannot require in-person classes, but she emphasized the importance of getting kids back to the classroom.
“The value of in-person learning for our kids is immeasurable,” says Whitmer. “We must do everything we can to help our kids get the great education they need and to do so safely.”
That sentiment is echoed by state health officials.
“In-person instruction is critical for the current and the future well-being of children, especially young learners and students who are disadvantaged,” says Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon. ”We encourage schools to reopen as soon as they can do so with proven protections for staff and students.”
Robert McCann of the Michigan K-12 Alliance praises Whitmer for her push to get schools reopened but says schools need much more information to get that done.
“There’s still a lack of understanding on a lot of people’s parts of how the vaccination process is rolling out,” McCann says. “Our superintendents get calls from teachers every day wondering ‘Where do I sign up? How do I get one or should I get one even?’”
Many districts have relied on fully remote instruction during the pandemic. Online instruction will likely continue through the spring for many schools.
State health officials say personal protection equipment and hand sanitizer will be made available to school districts.