News Story

Parents, Students Take A Back Seat As School Districts Announce Last-Minute Closures

‘Unprecedented level of fatigue’ in ‘our amazing staff’

In recent weeks several Michigan school districts have suddenly closed their doors to in-class schooling, or announced “remote learning only” on specified days, blaming COVID. Here are several:

Newaygo Public Schools announced on its website on Tuesday, Nov. 9 that classrooms would be closed the following three days, Nov. 10, 11 and 12. The district acknowledged this would cause hardships for some families and blamed staff illnesses, a shortage of substitute teachers and other issues it said were beyond its control.

In an email, Superintendent Jeff Wright said the district plans to count those missed days as snow days for purposes of meeting minimum state requirements for the number of school days each year. Wright added that fewer than 75% of students attended school on Nov. 8, which could trigger penalties.

On its website, the district said that remote-only learning was not an option for the week: “Due to the state requirements for virtual instruction, our district does not have the connectivity, parental consent documentation, or ability to transition back and forth from in person to virtual learning.”

Southfield Public Schools announced in an Oct. 31 letter to parents that schools would be closed on Fridays between Nov. 5 and Feb. 4, 2022. The letter claimed the move would help the district deal with the challenges of enhanced COVID-related cleaning and staff shortages.

When asked to comment, Jennifer Martin-Green, superintendent of Southfield Public Schools, replied in an email. “Southfield is providing a full day of remote, synchronous, direct teacher instruction on each Friday outlined in our letter to the community. This type of instruction is allowable under 5OA of the pupil accounting manual. Utilizing this framework, the district is able to meet the seat-time and days and hours requirements.”

Ypsilanti Community Schools informed parents in a Nov. 8 letter that schools would be closed for all of Thanksgiving week. The district calendar had previously included classes on Monday and Tuesday of that week, Nov. 22 and 23.

Superintendent Alena Zachery-Ross claimed the closure was directed at giving more time off to school employees. Staff shortages, she wrote, “resulted in our amazing YCS staff experiencing an unprecedented level of fatigue.”

She added the district would also use those two days for “deep cleaning,” which will continue during the winter break. Zachery-Ross told parents that most students have internet access, and the district “will provide our students with the tools they need to do independent work during those two days.”

It is not clear whether the district plans to count those days as instructional days or snow days. Zachery-Ross did not return an email request for comment.

Ann Arbor Public Schools also closed schools for all of Thanksgiving week, blaming more COVID cases and staffing shortages. The district also reported pay raises aimed at attracting more substitute teachers.

When asked to comment on the requirements for state funding, Andrew Cluley, director of communications, wrote, “If needed, we will take appropriate steps as necessary to achieve the statutorily-required full school year for our students and staff during this 2021-2022 school year.”

By law, a district must offer 180 days of instruction in a school year to receive state funding. A district may cancel up to six days for circumstances outside its control (colloquially known as “snow days”) and it may petition the state superintendent for permission to cancel three additional days.

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.