A group of Michigan superintendents is asking for guidance from State Superintendent Michael Rice on a number of issues related to the impact of the new coronavirus outbreak, including what happens if schools have to close in the midst of state academic testing this spring.

“School administrators from throughout the region are receiving a growing number of questions from concerned parents regarding the health and safety of their children,” wrote Robert McCann, executive director of the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education, which represents the interests of district leaders in Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne counties.

One of the questions addresses a looming issue for Michigan. State testing begins in April, and it’s a critical year given that for the first time, the results of the third-grade reading exam will determine which struggling readers should be required to repeat the grade. That’s thanks to the state’s Read by Grade 3 law.

The superintendents are also looking for guidance on other issues related to closures, such as whether schools should provide meals to students and if the Michigan Department of Education will issue a temporary reprieve from a rule requiring 75% of students be in attendance on a given day in order for a school day to be counted. State law requires schools be in session for 180 days during the year.

Martin Ackley, spokesman for the state education department, said guidance associated with a number of school-related issues in the event of closures due to COVID-19 is forthcoming.

“These are complex issues in a rapidly changing environment in a state of 842 diverse school districts — each of which has significant individual authority over its local schools,” Ackley said. “Scenarios vary depending upon whether school closures are short-term or long-term.”

The guidance, Ackley said, will be released on a subject-by-subject basis as information becomes available.

School districts across the state are taking steps to prepare for the impact of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. 

In the Rochester school district, for instance, classes were canceled today and Friday for staff to plan for remote learning, if that becomes necessary. The West Bloomfield school district is closing Friday for the same reason.

The Dearborn school district canceled classes at Whitmore-Bolles Elementary School for today, and possibly for more days, because a staff member came in contact with someone who has the virus.

And in Detroit, the district is canceling student study abroad trips for the spring and summer, but keeping its buildings open. Extra disinfection of those buildings, though, is happening.

McCann said that with the potential of having to make decisions about closing schools becoming a reality every day, “We are hoping you can provide quick guidance on how the Department of Education plans to handle any potential shutdown scenarios so that our superintendents and their teams can best prepare their schools, and ultimately their students, for such an event.”

Here are the questions the superintendents are asking Rice to address. Scroll down for a copy of the full letter.

  • How will the Department of Education handle standardized testing requirements such as M-STEP and MME in the event of closures?
  • How will students that currently receive free and reduced meal services be affected?
  • Will schools be required to provide breakfast and lunch services to those students during a shutdown? Are there other plans in place to provide those students with food distribution outside of school?
  • If health officials recommend that schools shift to online learning temporarily, how will students that lack internet access at home be given access to those online learning programs? Are there discussions with internet providers to make access and equipment available to students that would otherwise be without it?
  • Will the department issue a temporary reprieve from the 75% attendance rule and the 180-day rule?
  • Will the department issue guidance for athletics or other out-of-class activities?