Gov. Whitmer announces plan to reopen K-12 schools


LANSING — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unveiled her plans Tuesday to return students to the classroom this fall for the first time since schools were closed in March in favor of remote learning to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

The Safe Start plan requires districts to make safety plans in preparation for the upcoming school year and includes $256 million from the state to support those efforts, Whitmer told reporters in Lansing.

The plan lays out requirements and makes recommendations for districts to follow. Different stages are tied to Whitmer’s six-phase regional approach to economically reopening the state.

School district plans should show how students, teachers and staff will be protected from the virus under each of those phases.

“Getting back to classroom learning and remaining in school buildings will require us to make changes to how school usually looks,” Whitmer said. “We must all continue to put safety first, and leverage data and science and public health evidence to inform decisions that we make to serve each and every student in Michigan.”

As of Tuesday, there had been 63,870 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Michigan since the start of the pandemic and more than 5,900 deaths from the disease caused by the coronavirus. The state health department reported 373 new confirmed cases on Tuesday.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula are in Phase 5 of the reopening plan, while areas south of those regions are in Phase 4.

In Phase 4, students in sixth grade and up must wear a face mask throughout the school day, except for lunch or if they medically can’t wear one. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade must wear masks when outside the classroom and on school buses.

In Phase 5, students won’t be required to wear masks but will be recommended to do so. Schools would be strongly recommended to do health screenings and send students with COVID-19 symptoms back home.

Both phases would limit the number of spectators at sporting events or competitions.

School buildings will remain closed for regions in phases 1-3, where confirmed cases of the virus are increasing and hospital capacity is taxed. Learning would be done virtually.

Michigan would have to be at Phase 6 of its restart for in-person classroom instruction with minimum required safety protocols.

Phase 6 of the state’s restart is called its post-pandemic where community spread of the disease is not expected to return, and there is sufficient community immunity and available treatment. All businesses are reopened and social distancing is relaxed under this phase.

Contributing to the plan were the Return to School Advisory Council and the COVID-19 Task Force on Education, which is composed of health professionals, educators, superintendents and other stakeholders in public safety.

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