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State lawmakers may be close to a deal on fall school plan

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Posted at 7:24 PM, Aug 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-11 19:24:16-04

LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) — Schools are facing a deadline of this Saturday for submitting a plan to the state for how they plan to keep children safe as they return to school in the midst of a pandemic.

They have this deadline and they don’t even know the rules they will be playing by. Legislative sessions to provide answers have been canceled this month since a senator was diagnosed with COVID-19. The Senate could start to give them answers when it holds a rare Saturday session this weekend. So what will they be deciding?

Superintendent Dr. Russell Pickell of Riverview Schools says he will offer a virtual, hybrid, and full-time face-to-face option. He doesn’t know, how will attendance be taken? Will he have enough funding to offer so many options?

“We have enough funding to get us through, as is now, through April. I need to know what is going on beyond that. I can’t live with the cuts they are proposing and telling us we are going to be looking at,” said Dr. Pickell.

Schools that are going to only offer virtual instruction say they don’t even know with certainty if that will be legal and funded. At the same time they don’t know how much funding they will have to pay for measures to protect students and staff.

“No one is going virtual because they want to. They are doing it because they physically cant make it to where their schools are safe due to the funding,” said Dr. Pickell.

He is hoping the state or federal government help. At the state level, we know the House and the Senate are Republican-controlled and need to come up with a plan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, approves.

There are four bills addressing the start of the school year that have been passed by the House, that the Senate could pick up.

One bill requires in-person learning to be offered to all students in kindergarten through the fifth grade.

“The school districts that are doing on-line only should not be getting a funding cut,” said State Representative Darrin Camilleri, (D-Trenton).

Rep. Camilleri says the requirement could put children in danger. He is hoping that the bill does not move forward in the Senate.

“I don’t know if enough school districts will have the resources to do all the work they need to make sure students have a safe learning environment for school,” said Rep. Camilleri.

So will the Senate pass this?

WXYZ reached out to State Representative Pamela Hornberger, a Republican from Chesterfield Township who wrote the bill.

“It’s going to be optional for students. It is not going to be required. I think it is best for young students,” said Hornberger.

Rep. Hornberger says while the legislature has canceled sessions so far this month since Senator Tom Barret was diagnosed with COVID-19, she has been working behind the scenes on a bill that could pass in both the House and Senate. She says they are close to a tentative agreement. It would not require in-person learning.

She says it will likely call for all students to take a standardized test within 30 days of the new school year to measure learning loss.

“A local benchmark assessment. So we shouldn’t have to worry about the M-Step this school year,” said Rep. Hornberger.

It will require schools to buy PPE for students and staff if open for in-person instruction.

“On Saturday with the Senate voting, and Monday with the House going in to confer, districts will be able to have stability going forward and not be at a loss,” said Rep. Hornberger.

The one question that likely will not be answered Saturday is what per-pupil funding will be. Lawmakers say they have to wait for the state revenue conference on August 24th, so that they know how much money will be in the state budget next fiscal year.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Michigan, a timeline of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Southeast Michigan, and links to more information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC and the WHO.

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

Visit our The Rebound Detroit, a place where we are working to help people impacted financially from the coronavirus. We have all the information on everything available to help you through this crisis and how to access it.

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