In this photo provided by the Michigan Office of the Governor, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the state during a speech in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, April 2, 2020. The governor ordered that students in the state will not return to K-12 school buildings the rest of the academic year due to the coronavirus pandemic and instead will learn remotely. All public and private schools are more than halfway through a four-week shutdown ordered by Whitmer to combat the outbreak. (Michigan Office of the Governor via AP)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — K-12 school buildings will not reopen for the rest of the academic year due to the coronavirus pandemic and Michigan's 1.5 million-plus students will learn remotely, under an order issued Thursday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Public and private schools are nearing the end of the third week of a shutdown to stop the spread of the virus.

Whitmer said face-to-face instruction will not resume this spring. Neither will extracurricular activities including sports.

Districts have flexibility on how they create distance learning programs. Options include phone lessons, online classes and mailing materials to homes. Schools relying on virtual learning should ensure that every student has access to a device that can connect to the internet.

Under Whitmer's order, schools must establish distance learning programs no later than April 28. Intermediate school districts and charter school authorizers must be ready to review and approve or reject plans starting next Wednesday.

“This is the best thing that we can do for the health of our children, for the tens of thousands of educators in Michigan who work in our schools” Whitmer said, after projecting that cases of COVID-19 in Michigan will reach an apex in early May. "This will ensure more kids and educators will return to school happy and healthy at the start of next school year.”

Seniors will graduate and other children will advance to the next grade, as long as they were on track to do so before the closure. Students will not be penalized if they are unable to participate in an alternate learning plan. Eleventh-graders who take the SAT as part of the state's standardized assessment will complete it in the fall but only for college admissions purposes.

Traditional districts and charter schools whose “continuity of learning” plans are approved will get their full state funding. They also were given more flexibility to start the 2020-21 school year early, including by switching to a year-round balanced calendar.

“We recognize that districts do not have equitable access” to resources such as broadband, said the Democratic governor, whose decision was backed by lawmakers from both parties and an array of school groups and employee unions. “That's why it's not one-size-fits-all. It's got to be determined at the local level so that the needs of kids are met, acknowledging the unique challenges that districts are confronting in different parts of our state.”

About 12% of Michigan children, or 266,000, live in homes without internet access, according to the Michigan League for Public Policy’s Kids Count project. Access is lowest in rural areas.

“The governor addressed that by allowing school districts to develop their own plans, and the data shows that many districts will need to look beyond online learning and look at other approaches to make sure all students have access as part of any remote learning plans," said Kelsey Perdue, Kids Count in Michigan director.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.


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