Michigan senators overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan plan Saturday aimed at providing clarity to districts and flexibility to families as everyone prepares for the start of an unorthodox school year.
The plan does not mandate in-person courses for any grade level but it does include extra money for school districts and clarity about how they will be funded this year.
There is no reference to mandating masks in schools in the plan. While previous executive orders from the governor would appear to require masks for anyone 5 years old or older while inside, on Friday the governor said “we strongly encourage masks for everyone.”
The compromise plan, a package of three bills, passed during a rare Saturday morning session in the Senate. Lawmakers meeting on a weekend signals a legislative desire to avoid partisan politics while parents and educators demand action as they try to keep children safe from the coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19.
The House is expected to take up the plan Monday morning, paving the way for the proposal to hit the governor’s desk later this week.
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The Senate vote came the same day as the deadline for local districts to submit their plans for how they intend to educate students during the pandemic. It was not immediately clear whether this legislative package would require any changes for any district plans.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, along with leaders from the Senate and House, announced late Friday they had arrived promise. The leaders had worked on a deal for days, necessitated by a divide between the governor’s original plan and Republican-backed bills in the House.
Details of the compromise plan:
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For months, educators and families have asked for clarity from state leaders. The lack of direction led different districts to proffer different plans, resulting in some consternation among teachers and parents.
Detroit Public Schools Community District already has announced it will start the year with in-person classes. On Friday, teachers in the city announced they planned to vote soon on whether to have a safety strike, noting their ongoing concerns about how they can safely teach in person.
However, the largest teachers unions in the state expressed support for the legislation in a joint statement issued Saturday.
“Legislative compromises are never perfect, and the revised versions of (the bills) under consideration in the Senate today are no exception. However, these bills provide students, parents, educators and districts both certainty and flexibility on key issues as we head into the 2020-21 school year,” Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart and AFT Michigan President David Hecker said in the statement.
Several Senate Democrats attempted to change some aspects of the bill, suggesting standardized tests should be voluntary and educators should not be required to report monthly student interactions. The suggested tweaks all failed, an expected outcome given the work behind the scenes by the governor and legislative leaders from both parties leading up to Saturday’s session.
“My Republican colleagues have decided that at the start of the first new school year during the COVID-19 pandemic, they should add yet another standardized test to the long list of standardized tests that students will have to take,” state Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, said in a statement emailed after the vote.
“I could not – in good conscience – vote for a bill package that adds new testing requirements for students and teachers in what is already a historically challenging school year.”
The need for a compromise arose after nervous school administrators and teachers watched the governor and lawmakers propose competing plans for safely educating students.