(The Center Square) – The negative repercussions of the Michigan school closures include national test scores so low as to prompt state leaders to distance themselves from mandating extended in-person school closures during the pandemic.
It has also generated headlines and social media interest nationwide after Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, in a Tuesday night debate with Republican challenger Tudor Dixon, said schools were closed for three months during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whitmer said, “Mrs. Dixon says that I kept students out longer than any other state. That’s just not true….Kids were out for three months.”
When the governor made the assertion, Dixon immediately challenged.
“This is shocking to me that she thinks schools were only closed for three months, or maybe she thinks that she can convince you that schools were only closed for three months but you know better because your students are the ones who are desperately behind,” Dixon responded.
Whitmer, in interviews after the debate, says she referred only to her or her Health Department’s orders in making the “three months” statement. Dixon and others include Whitmer’s actions, or lack thereof, that resulted in tens of thousands of students not having in-person instruction offered in some cases even into this school year.
Whitmer’s mandated closures began March 16, 2020 and was extended through the end of the 2019-20 school year. In August, she and the Legislature created a plan for 2020-21 that yielded flexibility of instruction to school districts, including hours and whether in person or remote. That November, Whitmer ordered suspension of classes for three weeks at high schools and colleges; middle and elementary schools were permitted to be in person under a mask mandate.
In April of that same 2020-21 school year, Whitmer asked schools to follow spring break with two weeks of remote learning and suspension of extracurricular activities. Many school districts, such as Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and Flint, were remote all year in part because Whitmer refused to approve making an in-person offering mandatory of school districts.
Even this year – the third impacted by the COVID-19 era – with districts not facing a mandatory in-person option, Ann Arbor is an example of a district that began with remote learning. School board candidates are campaigning on the issue ahead of the Nov. 8 election.
According to Burbio’s K-12 Student Tracker, Michigan ranked 33rd nationally for allowing in-person learning during the 2020-21 school year. As governor, Whitmer didn’t recommend returning to in-person learning until March 2021, after schools were closed in late March 2020.
Writing for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in a blog published Tuesday prior to the debate, Jarrett Skorup said Whitmer didn’t recommend in-person instruction until March 2021. Skorup is the senior director of Marketing and Communications. At the time, Skorup says “23% of Michigan schools were fully in person, compared to 47% in Ohio, 54% in Wisconsin, and 76% in Indiana.”