News Story

Michigan school closures went beyond ‘three months’

At debate with Tudor Dixon, Whitmer misleads on Michigan school closures during COVID-19

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican challenger Tudor Dixon held their second and final debate Tuesday night. In an hour-long discussion on Michigan’s future, Whitmer misled about school closings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whitmer stated during the debate, “Mrs. Dixon says that I kept students out longer than any other state. That’s just not true. … Kids were out (of school) for three months.”

This is not accurate. While individual school districts decided whether to send kids back in the fall of the 2020-21 school year, Whitmer did not encourage schools to return to in-person learning until January 2021.

Which is why it was a curious statement on behalf of Whitmer when she radically misinformed viewers on actions she took during her unilateral lockdown of K-12 schools. Without consulting with or considering the Legislature’s input on pandemic mitigation strategies, the governor ordered schools to close in March 2020. She ended up closing them for the rest of the academic year. Most schools did not even engage in online learning until the fall due to the sudden decision.

On March 10, 2020, the state announced that two cases of COVID-19 had been detected. On March 12, Whitmer ordered schools shut from March 16 through April 5, due to twelve presumptive cases of COVID-19. She subsequently determined that schools should remain shut for the rest of academic year.

After schools decided to offer in-person, on-line instruction only, or a hybrid approach for the 2020-21 school year, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, an executive branch agency, once again ordered schools shut November 15, for three weeks. High schools and colleges were forbidden from holding in-person classes.

After the emergency powers Whitmer invoked were struck down by the Michigan Supreme Court in October 2020, in a case filed by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, Whitmer then issued orders through the state health department.

As The Detroit News reported:

Whitmer said Friday she "vehemently" disagreed with the court's ruling, which she said made Michigan an "outlier" among the majority of states that have emergency orders in place.

The governor said that even after the Supreme Court ruling takes effect, her directives will remain in place through "alternative sources of authority."

It wasn’t until January 2021 that Whitmer announced schools should get back to in-person learning, no later than March 1.

“I strongly encourage districts to provide as much face-to-face learning as possible, and my administration will work closely with them to get it done,” Whitmer said at the time.

Only then, a year after the pandemic started, did Whitmer decide that the masks and other mitigation strategies put in place by school districts were safe enough for students to return to the classroom.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.