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State superintendent urges longer school year, expanding in-school instruction option

a classroom of empty colorful chairs
Flickr user Frank Juarez
Creative Commons http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
Cuts are in the works for Michigan's K-12 public schools.

State school superintendent Michael Rice is calling on lawmakers to require or incentivize school districts to have a longer school year next year because of learning loss during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rice testified Tuesday before a joint hearing of the Michigan House and Senate Education Committees.

"Given the challenges to teaching and learning during the pandemic, students will need additional instructional time next school year," said Rice during the hearing.

"The current number of days - 180 - was too low before the pandemic," Rice said. "It isn't close to that of high-performing nations. Students and staff need more days coming out of the pandemic.

Rice said students will need a longer school year whether they were educated moslty in person or mostly remotely during the pandemic.

Rice did not specify how many additional days he recommended. But he did suggest a "layered" approach to address particular student needs.

"Some districts will need to add time for all their students, above a statutorily raised state minimum," Rice said. "Some will need to add time for particular groups of students or for particular students. Some will need to do all three."

Rice also urged all Michigan school districts to provide an option for in-person learning if they have not already. 

Governor Gretchen Whitmer recently urged schools to offer in person learning options by March 1.

Rice said this should be possible if disease mitigation efforts continue and COVID-19 positivity rates, cases and hospitalizations do not go up.

Rice said three-fifths of school districts are offering the option of in-person instruction now. He said that for most of the school year a substantial majority of school districts have offered the option except for a dip coinciding with the state's mid-November temporary ban on in-person high school classes in response to the surge in COVID-19 cases.

"At the barest minimum, we should be offering the option of in-person instruction to our most vulnerable children - children with profound special needs, fledgling readers, beginning language readers," said Rice.

Rice testified that in-person instruction is better than remote instruction for most children, but not all families will choose the in-person option.

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Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.
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