LANSING — On Thursday, Governor Whitmer signed the bipartisan “Return to Learn” bills she and legislative leaders agreed upon on last Friday.
The package of bills has new, more flexible instructional requirements for school districts for the 2020-2021 school year. It also provides significant financial security to districts by primarily using last year’s pupil count to determine this year’s funding levels.
“Over the past week, we have taken crucial steps to help Michigan schools and families navigate the new school year,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Alongside this bipartisan agreement, I announced nearly $65 million in federal funding to help give students, parents, educators and support staff the resources they need to provide the best and most safe education possible.
She added that though the bills were great steps, Republicans in the U.S. Congress have to step up to provide real financial aid to families and students across the country.
What the new legislation means for school districts
Essentially, the bills provide districts flexibility around the number of school days, instructional hours, student count and attendance. It includes a new COVID-19 learning plan, which will provide those districts with the maximum flexibility to adapt their programs to properly and safely respond to the pandemic.
Districts will have to submit to the state their own particular plans, educational goals and a description of how instruction will be delivered. Under each plan, schools are required to describe how instruction will be delivered, giving school districts the ability to provide instruction in-person at school or a different location, online, digitally or any other remote means of learning.
Districts are also required to describe how instruction for core academic areas provided under the learning plan will expose each student to standards comparable to in-person instruction and a description of how student progress will be graded or reported.
School districts also have to describe how they will ensure students with disabilities will be provided with equitable access to instruction accommodation as well as describe how students will be provided with equitable access to technology and the Internet if instruction is virtual.
The legislation requires consistent two-way interactions between students and teachers. As districts develop their plans they are required to work with their local health departments and employees to develop district-wide guidelines and key metrics from local data. COVID-19 learning plans must be submitted to its ISD or authorizing body by October 1.