Whitmer orders closure of all K-12 schools in Michigan over coronavirus

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has ordered all K-12 schools in the state to close in light of concerns about the coronavirus.

Whitmer announced the order during an 11 p.m. press conference, where she was accompanied by State Superintendent Michael Rice and other state officials.

The order affects nearly 1.5 million public school students, 537 school districts and nearly 300 charter schools. Private schools are also affected.

Michigan will join three other states — Maryland, New Mexico, and Ohio — that have ordered statewide closures of schools.

Many school districts already planned to be off sometime during that time period for spring break, so the actual cancellation of classes will likely only be two weeks for most.

The order comes on the same day the state’s number of coronavirus cases swelled from two Wednesday to 12 Thursday. Whitmer said more cases are expected.

“I am ordering the closure of all K-12 school buildings in Michigan for three weeks, starting Monday, March 16, until Sunday, April 5,” Whitmer said. “This is not a decision that I made lightly.”

Whitmer noted that many school districts have already made decisions about closing. Several Washtenaw County school districts, including Ann Arbor Public Schools, announced earlier in the day Thursday that they are closing until April 6 or 7. Dozens more districts, including the Detroit Public Schools Community District, have canceled classes for Friday to prepare for the possibility of switching to online learning.

Closing schools, Whitmer said, “is a necessary step to protect kids and teachers and families and our overall public health,” Whitmer said. “I know this will be a tough time for our parents and our educators.”

Whitmer urged businesses to support employees who are parents.

“Some parents will need to stay home with their children,” Whitmer said. But not every parent, she said, has that ability. “Not every parent has paid leave.”

Rice said closing schools is the right decision to keep people safe “and mitigate the spread of coronavirus.”

Mariana Hernandez, a parent in southwest Detroit, said she is worried about students who rely on school for regular meals. But she applauded the closures.

“It’s a very good decision,” she said, adding, “I’ve bought supplies for three weeks. Thank god I started preparing for this. I made my last purchases this morning.”

The Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators, a professional development organization for the state’s school leaders, said they support the governor’s decision to close schools as the state grapples with the rapidly evolving public health crisis.  

“It is a responsible decision to keep our communities safe to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect public health. This was not an easy decision, but it’s the right decision,” Peter Spadafore, the organization’s spokesman, said in a statement.

Dan Quisenberry, the president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, which represents the state’s charter schools, said they also support the governor’s decision. He added that despite the closures, many charter schools will be able to continue instruction. 

“Many charter schools will be able to continue teaching and learning throughout this time. As we work together as a state to get through this difficult situation, we look forward to seeing students return to school as soon as it’s deemed safe to do so,” he said in a statement issued late Thursday. 

With anxieties mounting about the virus’ spread, some students will welcome the decision, said Brian Peck, a Spanish teacher at Osborn High School in Detroit. 

“Although I know families will have to scramble to make plans to care for their children I know many of my students are relieved,” he said. “These past few days many of them were growing anxious.”

Still, he said he expected the decision to cause some academic disruption.

“I imagine the ripple effect for the school year will be hard for students to manage, especially juniors with a spring SAT and seniors fulfilling graduation requirements.”

He added: “I hope my kids take advantage of time at home and read.”