Public schools won’t count online learning time but private schools will
Students attending public schools online during the coronavirus shutdown won’t be able to count it toward their required annual instructional hours, but private schools will.
The Michigan Department of Education said Friday in a memo to school leaders across the state that the online time wouldn’t count.
“There is no mechanism to earn instructional time during a period of mandated school closure,” Deputy State Superintendent Vanessa Kessler wrote in a memo. “However, schools can and are encouraged to offer supplemental learning opportunities to students using distance learning methods as they see fit.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sounded surprised by the decision.
“I know that the Michigan Department of Education put out a statement today, I was dismayed to see that, frankly,” Whitmer said. “We are going to work to make sure that kids are getting the instruction, or the equivalent of an instruction, as needed so that they can finish this year.”
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Rice said the department is bound by law.
“State law limits us in this situation — not for an individual child in an individual cyber school or an individual virtual course offering, but for children across the state, many of whom have no computers at home, no connectivity, and no adults to monitor their learning and/or technology,” Rice said in a statement issued late Friday. “The state legislature should change state law to permit days out of school for this public health emergency to be counted as instructional days.”
Rice noted that the Legislature took similar action last year when the polar vortex closed schools across the state for several days in January and February.
Most private schools will count the time, said Brian Broderick, executive director of the Michigan Association of Non-Public Schools, which represents more than 300 Catholic, Lutheran and Christian schools across the state.
“Almost all of our schools are moving forward with online, virtual learning and they will count it toward their instructional time,” Broderick said.
Broderick said private schools willingly followed Whitmer’s decision last week to end face-to-face classes because she ordered it under her emergency authority and it concerned public health. The state Department of Education’s decision to not credit online learning time is tied to state funding for schools, he said.
“Since the state doesn’t provide funding to non-public schools, we’re not bound by it,” Broderick said.
Mercy High School, an all-girls Catholic school in Farmington Hills, notified families Friday that it would count online learning.
“Please understand and rest assured that this does not apply to Mercy High School and our e-learning platform,” school administrators wrote in a memo to parents. “As a private, Catholic institution, we administer and determine how we deliver education and curriculum materials to our students. We are confident that we will continue to provide an exemplary Mercy education through e-learning. so our young women will continue to fulfill graduation requirements and grow academically, spiritually and culturally.”
It’s not clear yet whether the state will extend the school year for public schools into the summer months or end it early as Kansas has done and other states are considering. The Department of Education didn’t respond to a request for clarification.
The Michigan Department of Education “will not be granting seat time waiver requests during this time,” the memo said. Those waivers allow the state superintendent to waive the minimum number of hours and days of pupil instruction for alternative education or other programs.
Detroit Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told the Free Press that the best approach may be to write off the time that is lost.
“I would recommend recognizing the days and not requiring us to make it up,” Vitti said. “From an academic, educational purist perspective, I would want us to make up the time, but the logistics and operational challenges are a whole other thing.”
Making up the time would require extending the school year into the summer, which might not be the best use of resources, Vitti said.
“I think the better option would be to start school when we feel, medically, it is safe to start school again, even if only for a couple of weeks, maybe break for regular summer, then maybe summer school,” he said.
“Under the current conditions, the legislature should make clear in law that the school year will not be extended into the summer,” Rice said in a statement.
When the virus first threatened to shut down schools, districts began scrambling to ramp up online offerings. West Bloomfield Schools were among the first, working through last weekend to be able to launch on Monday morning. Ann Arbor was quick to move online as well.
West Bloomfield School Superintendent Gerald Hill said he was disappointed with the state’s decision. There are more ways to measure academic achievement than just the time children spend in classrooms, he said.
“Seat time is an outmoded accountability method,” Hill said. “Demonstration of learning, whether in person or virtually, is more consistent with 21st Century life.”
Hill said state officials need to think more creatively about how to deal with the crisis.
“Just giving an answer of ‘no,’ with no plan on how to continue instruction, is not a comprehensive path forward for students or teachers,” Hill said. “A more appropriate response would be … we’re looking at all options, but at this time our system is not designed to deal with this crisis.”
For now, West Bloomfield will continue to conduct online instruction with students required to check in daily, Hill said. He praised teachers for their commitment saying they “deserve and should receive support from the Michigan Department of Education.”
The district even launched a lobbying effort aimed at getting the Michigan Legislature to overrule the decision. On its website, the district urged parents to write to their representatives in Lansing.
One West Bloomfield teacher, Crystal Jabiro, teaches English language arts to sixth- and eighth-graders at Orchard Lake Middle School. She was stunned by the state’s decision. Like her colleagues, she worked overtime most of last weekend scrambling to prepare to launch an online class on Monday morning.
“If you looked at my Google Classroom, you see I posted things at 3:30, 3:45 a.m. I was up all night long, doing work for these kids and I have my own children to take care of,” she said. “And now the state’s not going to count it? Wow.”
Jabiro’s son, Mark, also was disappointed to hear the news. He attends the school where his mom teaches and he’s been attending class online all week. He said while it’s not the same as being in a classroom, he has been learning and he wished he would get credit for it.