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Whitmer forms panel to figure out way to reopen school in fall

David Jesse
Detroit Free Press

A new group will make recommendations on how Michigan's schools can safely open this fall, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Friday.

The 20-person Return to Learning Advisory Council — which will be comprised of students, parents, front-line educators, administrators and public health officials — will provide the state with recommendations on how to safely, equitably and efficiently return to school in the fall, Whitmer said in the announcement.

The governor closed school buildings March 16, and on April 30 she announced that buildings would remain closed for the duration of the school year.

“It’s critical we bring together experts in health care and education, as well as students, educators and families to think about how and if it’s possible to safely return to in-person learning in the fall and how to ensure the more than 1.5 million K-12 students across Michigan get the education they need and deserve,” Whitmer said in a statement. “This panel will use a data-informed and science-based approach with input from epidemiologists to determine if, when and how students can return to school this fall and what that will look like.”'

She did not close the door on summer school, but in a press conference announcing the change, she said the panel was looking at a template on how to open schools that could be applied in the summer or fall.

As far when it opens, she says that depends on Michiganders staying home and keeping the COVID-19 virus under wraps.

"It's dependent on how we perform in the interim," she said, describing herself as hopeful schools would be open in the fall. She wouldn't commit to saying she expected them to be open. "The facts and actions of the people of Michigan are going to dictate that."

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Michigan will partner with Opportunity Labs, a national nonprofit, to develop the plan. The group already has a detailed "Return to School Roadmap" published on its website, outlining a series of steps schools need to take as they reopen — everything from limiting the number of entrances to developing a plan to assess students' learning progress and loss since they were last in school.

"We look forward to supporting the advisory council in its work to ensure the safest possible return to school in the fall," said Dr. Mario Ramirez, managing director of Opportunity Labs, a practicing emergency physician and former acting director of pandemic and emerging threats for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Ebola epidemic,

Jobs for the panel will include:

  • Performing outreach to make sure everyone's voices are included in the discussion of how the 2020-2021 school year will take place.
  • Ensuring experts in public health and epidemiology are informing the discussion of safely returning to school.
  • Recommending actions to remove statutory/administrative barriers to delivering education before day-to-day life is back to pretty much normal.
  • Recommending actions to develop and improve systems for remedial support for students who experienced learning loss during the spring and summer.

“I want to thank all of the parents who have been burning the candle at both ends these last few months trying to help their kids stay on track with their schoolwork while juggling their other responsibilities during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. I know it hasn’t been easy,” Whitmer said. “My hope is that by organizing a formal process informed by public health experts, we can give school districts much-needed direction heading into the 2020-2021 school year.”

Anyone interested can apply for the Return to Learn Advisory Council by going to and click ‘apply now’ under boards and commissions. You will be able to choose the appointment information tab within the application. Applications are due by Wednesday.

Michigan is also getting support for the panel from the Council of Michigan Foundations, the C.S. Mott Foundation and other philanthropic organizations.

Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or Follow him on Twitter: @reporterdavidj