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Michigan’s school closures: What we know about pay, testing, meals, and more

With Michigan’s school shutdown extended for another week, many questions still remain about how canceling classes for weeks will impact schools, students, testing, and employees’ pocketbooks.

What questions do you have? Send them to the Chalkbeat Detroit team at detroit.tips@chalkbeat.org. We’ll search for answers and report what we find here, so keep coming back for updated information.

🔗Will teachers still receive annual evaluations?

Possibly. It will depend on what the state legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer decide to do. Evaluations are based on a range of factors, including state test scores, classroom observations, and tests chosen by individual districts.

Much of that information was already available before the COVID-19 outbreak, said Pamela Hornberger, the Republican chair of the House Education Committee.

“For the most part evaluations are probably 80 percent done,” she said. “There’s no reason we can’t have something for each teacher.”

🔗Will all school employees get paid during the shutdown?

David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan, said the answer should be yes, but in reality it may vary from district to district for some employees.

“Our position is everyone should get paid,” Hecker said. It likely won’t be a problem for teachers. It could be, though, for support staff who are hourly employees, Hecker said.

“Support staff are far more likely to be financially, negatively hit by this,” he said. “Some districts have said we’re paying everybody. Some districts haven’t said that yet.”

In some districts, where meals are being prepared and handed out to families during the shutdown, support staff will continue working.

🔗Will the state delay the start of the M-STEP?

While the U.S. Department of Education has canceled testing requirements, Michigan’s state exam is still scheduled to begin in April. State lawmakers would need to vote to fully cancel the test, which hasn’t happened yet.

It isn’t clear when that might happen. The Detroit Free Press reported March 24 that the Legislature ended its current session without taking up a number of education-related topics advocates had been clamoring for action on.

On March 23, Whitmer extended the school shutdown to April 13, the same week some schools were set to begin administering the exam.

🔗How will students from low-income families receive meals during the shutdown?

Many school districts — including the Detroit Public Schools Community District — and charter schools are meals that families can pick up from various school locations. Some, though, scaled back those distributions to address employee health concerns.

In addition, some community groups are stepping up to help provide meals.

And the state education department received a waiver from the federal government that allows for meals to be served without children having to be together and on site. The waiver also allows schools to explore “creative options for feeding children who depend on those meals even if the school building is closed.”

🔗Could the school shutdown last longer than three weeks?

It’s possible. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said it’s “absolutely” likely schools will be shut down through the end of the school year.

“Going by what medical experts are telling us, [the outbreak] may not peak until the latter part of April or May,” he added, according to a report in The Hill. “We’ve informed superintendents while we’ve closed schools for three weeks, odds are we will go on a lot longer.” 

Also, on March 15, the federal Centers for Disease Control issued new guidance, recommending cancellation or postponement for events with 50 or more people for the next eight weeks. Oddly, schools were excluded from the recommendations. But it’s likely some states will apply the recommendations to them.

Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is calling on state leaders to end the school year now, and ensure students are able to learn online.

🔗Will school districts have to meet state calendar guidelines?

Michigan law requires schools to provide 180 days of instruction, though six days can be forgiven for things like snow days. 

It’s unclear if the state will require districts to extend the school year to make up for lost time, or forgive those days. 

As noted above, state lawmakers ended their session without taking up any key school-related measures related to the shutdown.