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Gov. Whitmer: ‘Masking Up’ Key to Returning to School in Fall

July 1, 2020
MI Safe Schools Roadmap provides protocols to keep schools safe in fall

As COVID-19 cases increase in every region of the state, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer stressed the importance of “masking up” to mitigate the spread and keep the state on track to reopen pre-K-12 schools to students in the fall.

“As we consider how to safely bring students and school staff back into school buildings, it’s critical to acknowledge the coronavirus is still very much alive in Michigan,” the Governor said this week at a press conference. “As we look toward September, we cannot let our guard down, we have to remain vigilant … Wearing a mask today increases the odds we can resume in-person instruction in the fall, and that’s what we are preparing for.”

Per the MI Safe Schools Roadmap, the state must remain in at least Phase Four of the MI Safe Start Plan for in-person instruction to occur in the fall with requirements laying out mask usage in classrooms, common areas, and school buses. The roadmap offers guidelines as to the types of safety and cleaning protocols that will be required or recommended at each phase with requirements becoming less stringent as regions of Michigan progress through Phases Five or Six.

The roadmap, which answered some of the lingering questions facing educators, requires school districts to adopt a COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan laying out how they will protect students and educators across the various phases of the MI Safe Start Plan.

In recognition of the cost of these protocols, the Governor also announced that $256 million is being allocated to support the districts in implementing their local plans as part of the bipartisan budget agreement reached with the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House on June 29. GOP legislative leadership released the framework of its “Return to Learn” plan last week.

Stringent Mask Requirements in Schools if Michigan Remains in Phase Four

Assuming Michigan remains in Phase Four, mask usage would reflect one of the biggest requirements of the MI Safe Schools Roadmap. In Phase Four the following requirements for facial coverings include:

  • Must always be worn by school staff except for meals.
  • Must be worn by pre-K-12 students, staff, and bus drivers during school transportation.
  • Must be always worn in hallways and common areas by pre-K-12 students.
  • Must be worn in classrooms by all students grades 6-12.
  • All students in grades K-5 wear facial coverings unless students remain with their classes throughout the school day and do not come into close contact with students in another class.

Schools Must Provide Hygiene Supplies, Coordinate with Local Health Departments

In terms of hygiene, schools must provide adequate supplies to support healthy hygiene behaviors including soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol for safe use by staff and students, paper towels, tissues, and signs reinforcing proper handwashing techniques.

Schools have to cooperate with the local public health department regarding implementing protocols for screening students and staff. Under the plan, indoor assemblies that bring together students from more than one classroom are prohibited.

All schools, public and private, are required to work with the local public health department if a confirmed case of COVID-19 is identified, and in particular, must collect the contact information for any close contacts of the affected individual from two days before he or she showed symptoms to the time when he or she was last present at the school.

Masks, Hand Sanitizer Required on Buses

A major area of concern for school administrators is the impact of the virus on busing and resources needed to ensure students are safely transported. The roadmap laid out several protocols, including the following guidelines:

  • Require the use of hand sanitizer before entering the bus. Hand sanitizer must be supplied on the bus.
  • The bus driver, staff, and all students in grades pre-K-12, if medically feasible, must wear facial coverings while on the bus.
  • Clean and disinfect transportation vehicles before and after every transit route. Children cannot be present when a vehicle is being cleaned.

Outdoor Sporting Events Limited to 100 People, Large Scale Indoor Events Prohibited

Stadium or outdoor sporting events are limited to no more than 100 fans assuming social distancing can be maintained while large scale indoor events are suspended.

Additional requirements include:

  • Spectators are allowed provided that facial coverings are used by observers and more than six feet of social distancing is maintained.
  • Handshakes, fist bumps, and other unnecessary contact must not occur.
  • Indoor weight-training and physical conditioning that require shared equipment are not permitted.
  • All equipment must be disinfected before and after usage.

Frequent Wipe Downs Required for Computer Labs, Desks, and Playground Equipment

Under the roadmap, schools will also be required to clean frequently touched surfaces including light switches, doors, benches, and bathrooms, which must undergo cleaning at least every four hours with either an EPA-approved disinfectant or diluted bleach solution. Other requirements include:

  • Libraries, computer labs, arts, and other hands-on classrooms must undergo cleaning after every class period with either an EPA-approved disinfectant or diluted bleach solution.
  • Student desks must be wiped down with either an EPA-approved disinfectant or diluted bleach solution after every class period.
  • Playground structures must continue to undergo normal routine cleaning, but using an EPA approved disinfectant is unnecessary.

The roadmap was created by the COVID-19 Task Force on Education Return to School Advisory Council.

On June 17, 2020, Governor Whitmer announced that Michigan schools may resume in-person learning in Phase Four of the MI Safe Start plan, with strict safety measures in place.


Follow University and College Fall Plans Via Bridge Magazine

Another major education question heading into fall is what universities and colleges will do in terms of instruction amid COVID-19. While many have tentatively announced in-person instruction, Bridge Magazine is maintaining a list of what each institution plans to do. Check it out here.