(The Center Square) – The Michigan House Wednesday night approved Republican’s “Return to Learn” plan to change how districts count attendance and provide in-person learning for students from kindergarten through 5th grade.
The four-bill package, House Bills 5910-5913, seeks to offer electronic learning days.
The plan would redefine “attendance” to mean “engaged in instruction” rather than “physically present” in the classroom, opening the door for both classroom and online learning.
Districts offering in-person learning for K-5 education would have to “make its best effort to obtain” requested protective barriers, masks and gloves, one bill says.
Currently, full school funding is determined by a district having 75 percent attendance on instruction days.
Under the bill, e-learning days would be exempt from this requirement.
Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, said the bills provide flexibility.
“Every student, every parent, every family is in a unique position and we must respect that and ensure that our educational opportunities are flexible enough to meet these unique situations,” Johnson said.
The package would allow for a continuous learning plan that would provide “equitable access to technology and the internet necessary to participate in instruction”, and equitable access to students with disabilities.
Rep. Sheryl Kennedy, D-Davison, said the bills were an “infomercial” for cyber schools and for-profit schools.
She said the plan left more questions than answers.
The plan directs local school districts offering in-person classes for the 2020-2021 school year to consult with their local health departments to develop tailored safety standards.
Rep. Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth, said the bills aimed to help schools’ privatization instead of aiding public schools.
“Teachers were not only left out of the conversation, they were left behind,” he said.
The Great Lakes Education Project supported the bills, while Oakland Schools and Wayne Regional Educational Service Agencies opposed the bills.
Macomb Intermediate School District opposed HB 5913, which would change the definition of attendance and require benchmark learning assessments.
Rep. Annette Glenn, R-Midland, a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on School Aid, argued it provided schools needed flexibility.
“The pandemic has affected different parts of the state in very different ways, and we must recognize that what works in Detroit or Grand Rapids might not be what’s best for students in Bay and Midland counties,” Glenn said in a statement.
The package moves to the Senate. Both chambers are Republican-controlled.
The plan contradicts Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plan, which allows for students to return to in-person learning only if the state stays in phase four or above of her reopening plan.
The first-term Democrat has said, if continued, a recent increase of COVID-19 cases could likely result in Whitmer’s decision to roll the state’s restrictions backward.
By Scott McClallen