By Rep. Andrea Schroeder of Oakland County’s Independence Township
When COVID-19 shut down our schools this spring, I was amazed to see the creativity Oakland County teachers and parents used to keep students engaged while sheltered at home.
In Clarkston Community Schools, hundreds of Chromebooks, headphones, and hotspots were distributed to those in need for a robust ‘at home learning’ program. Learning plans were emailed to the parents of elementary school students. Waterford School District used Google Classroom, Bloomz and other programs to connect with students, including on their smartphones. The district also provided a valuable online COVID-19 resource center, including tips for coping with anxiety.
These are just a few examples of how technology and imagination kept our young people learning even though they were not physically in the classroom.
This spirit is reflected in the ‘Return to Learn’ initiative I recently helped introduce in the Michigan Legislature. The flexible strategy would put more emphasis on technology and distance learning — when it’s sensible and appropriate — to help keep students, educators, and their families healthy when classes resume this fall.
A key component is allowing local communities to make decisions that are best tailored to their unique needs. As we have seen with COVID-19, Oakland County may be affected differently from an emergency health situation than communities Up North – the responses should not be identical. Our plan would empower local school districts and health departments to work together to develop health and safety standards that fit their communities.
The Return to Learn plan, which is awaiting consideration in legislative committees, also:
• Empowers school districts to decide their own start dates. Schools would not have to seek a waiver to bypass Michigan’s Labor Day start requirement.
• Provides an $800 per-pupil payment to K-12 schools to establish a robust distance learning plan, and to implement health measures to return students safely to the classroom. Intermediate school districts statewide would also receive support to help implement this plan.
• Includes a $500 per teacher payment as hazard and overtime pay and to help cover costs incurred due to transitioning to distance learning teaching plans.
• Redefines the word “attendance” to mean “engaged in instruction” rather than “physically present,” allowing schools to be innovative and give students the opportunity to learn outside the classroom.
• Limits the use of snow days to encourage the use of remote instruction when in-person instruction is unsafe or unsuitable. Moving forward, schools would be granted just two forgiven days of instruction per year.
• Utilizes benchmark assessments to provide detailed information to parents and teachers about where a student needs additional help, ensuring kids do not fall behind in the wake of the public health crisis.
• Requires school districts to work with local health departments to establish safety requirements for extracurricular activities and sports in addition to regular school safety measures.
The $1.3 billion plan would be paid for through federal assistance provided to states for COVID-19 relief.
I know the educators in our community are professional, talented and dedicated. The Return to Learn plan will provide them with the support and flexibility they need to ensure learning continues both inside and outside the classroom.