As a member of the House Education Committee, I’m committed to ensuring Michigan’s children receive a quality education. COVID-19 has presented unprecedented uncertainty and challenges for students, parents, and teachers. Our steps in the next year are critical to the development of our young people. For many reasons, backed up by health experts and relevant data, I believe the majority of Michigan students should be allowed to return to the classroom in the Fall if their parents see fit. That is why after seeking input from pediatricians and evaluating scientific data, I supported the Return to Learn Plan to safely and sensibly reopen our schools this Fall.
I have had conversations with local parents, teachers, students, and superintendents. I hear their concerns that many barriers still exist with remote learning that cause inequities in the education our students receive. The results from the end of last school year were mixed. Many students still do not have reliable internet or a computer. As a result, last school year some students utilized online learning and others were sent hard copy packets of school material. Remote learning is an important tool for the future of Michigan schools to supplement in person learning, but it will still take some time to make it work for all Michigan families.
The pandemic has revealed that our state needs to invest more in rural broadband so that all communities have access to reliable internet. We also need to find ways to get students the technology they need to make remote learning more effective. Teachers can only do so much with distance learning, especially if a student does not have access to adequate technology and their parents are unable or unwilling to engage in their education. I have no doubt that last Spring many children slipped through the cracks and their learning ended the day schools closed.
Research shows that for every year a school is unable to provide meaningful instruction to a child, it could impact his or her lifetime earning potential by 7 to 10 percent. Even missing out on a few months of school is likely to have a lifelong impact on our children. This could be the third year in a row that our kids miss out on a substantial amount of school, because snow days affected several days of instruction in the in 2018-19 school year, and COVID impacted the end of the 2019-20 year. Should this pattern continue, our kids will not be able to catch up, and they will be far behind students in other states. Education experts tell me that students will not only learn less, but they will also forget much of what they have already learned. Therefore, we must work together to empower our local schools to provide a meaningful and measurable education to our children this school year.
Decisions about how to reopen schools safely and responsibly should be guided by data and doctors. The Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated it supports in-person education to the maximum extent possible. The group encourages the State of Michigan and school districts to construct COVID-19 related safety plans that prioritize this goal.
Pediatricians maintain that data supports that children, especially those preschool and elementary-aged, are at a lower risk of contracting COVID-19 and are less likely than adults to spread it. Additionally, they point out that it is rare for young people without underlying health conditions to become seriously ill from COVID-19. Despite the limited serious health effects, the public health response has had a large effect on children’s lives. School closures have put the mental and social health of our children at risk, in addition to putting a wrench in their education.
Furthermore, many working parents simply cannot afford to have their kids out of school. Sixty percent of parents with children age 6 to 12 rely on school for childcare. We can’t forget about the moms and dads who work hard each day to put food on their family tables.
That’s why I voted in support of the House and Senate Return to Learn plan, House Bills 5910-5913, which is the smartest path for reopening Michigan schools. This plan empowers local school districts to work with their community health departments to develop localized safety protocols to protect their students, educators and school staff. Every corner of our state was impacted differently by the pandemic, so the response and safety measures should also be different.
Schools are grouped into local districts for a reason and should be able to make decisions that are most appropriate for their students and communities. Not all parents will feel comfortable putting their children back in the classroom in the fall, but under this plan, school districts can work with parents to craft a plan that works for them to ensure their children do not fall behind.
The plan also allows school districts to start whenever is best for them without obtaining a waiver to bypass Michigan’s Labor Day start requirement, ensuring students get back to school as soon as school districts deem it safe to do so.
By redefining the word “attendance” to mean “engaged in instruction” rather than “physically present,” this plan allows schools to be innovative and give students the opportunity to continue learning when outside the classroom, giving parents the ability to make the best decision for their own child. Whether it be sending them back to school or opting for remote instruction.
This plan was approved by the Michigan House in July and we are currently discussing it with the state Senate and the governor. I am hopeful that we can come together to support this legislation to safely and responsibly reopen our schools this fall and provide our children with a meaningful and measurable education this school year that will put them back on the path to success.
Rep. Matt Hall comments on testimony Wednesday in the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic from Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon. Rep. Hall says he is troubled the Director suggested that that DHHS officials were too busy to listen to health experts.
Rep. Hall talks about Senate passage Tuesday of his House Bill 5248. The measure increases transparency and accountability by requiring the Office of Children’s Ombudsman (OCO) to publicly release findings and recommendations related to a child abuse or death investigation within 30 days of a case’s closure date and with confidential information redacted.
Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic Chair Matt Hall, of Marshall, today issued the following statement after hearing testimony from Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon. Gordon spoke on recommendations the governor’s Michigan Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task Force formulated for resident placement, resource availability and quality of life for long-term […]