Executive Order Extends OMA Changes and Other COVID-19-Related Updates

Stacy Bogard

By Stacy Bogard, CAE, MASB Assistant Director of Communications & PR

DashBoard, April 15, 2020

In the school board world, the last couple of weeks usually have been filled with activities like attending the National School Boards Association’s Annual Conference (which was going to be so close this year in Chicago!); taking a spring break; starting the annual state assessment process for students; and holding a board meeting sitting next to each other in the same room as all of your district and public participants, among other activities.

Instead, most of us are on week five of staying at home (unless you’re an essential worker—thank you for all that you are doing!); we all likely know at least one person who has been affected by COVID-19; in-person instruction for the 2019-2020 school year has been ended by an executive order from the Governor; districts are ramping up Continuity of Learning plans for their students and staff; and you may have been meeting with your board via online platforms or conference call, or not at all.

While all of this upheaval takes a toll, Michiganders tough spirit endures, and we keep adjusting as needed in our temporary environment. State institutions and associations have moved quickly to provide guidance and set expectations, and districts are following through just as rapidly.

In terms of the most recent updates, last night, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-48, which extends the changes to the Open Meetings Act and school board monthly meeting requirements until May 12, 2020. The informational documents from MASB Legal Counsel and Director of Labor Relations/Policy Brad Banasik, J.D. have been updated on the MASB website.

Yesterday, during the State Board of Education’s virtual meeting, the Michigan Department of Education provided updates on its activities. The department has made significant enhancements to its website to make information easier to find and to be mobile friendly.

The most sobering information shared was regarding technology access and connectivity—based on a recent survey completed by a majority of ISDs, more than one-third of students statewide do not have access to a computer at home and/or connectivity to the internet. A more thorough survey to determine exactly where these gaps are the greatest was recently concluded, but the results are not yet available. Short-term investments to bridge the technology divide include providing as many hot spots and devices as possible, while long-term efforts will ensure all homes with children and teachers in them have connectivity and that there is an ongoing investment in devices so that all who need them are equipped.

There is also ongoing discussion about what the 2020-2021 school year will look like and what’s being done to pave the way. Chief Deputy Superintendent Sheila Alles noted that the start of the school year will look very different with a focus on taking care of socioemotional learning needs first, and then identifying where learning gaps are and starting to address them. A focus on socioemotional supports must be included as part of district’s COL plans; specific resources, including educator and parent/caregiver guides and a list of questions to consider, are available on the MDE website.

In terms of food preparation and distribution, with 57% of locations reporting, more than 5.7 million meals/snacks had been distributed as of April 12, 2020. The unanticipated school closure system will continue to the end of the 2019-2020 school year and the summer delivery programs will then pick up.

Michigan is the first state to submit a plan and to begin receiving new benefits from the federal government known as Pandemic-EBT, which are for all families with children who were receiving free or reduced meals prior to the crisis. These are not SNAP benefits, but are being added to people’s SNAP cards, if they already have one, or a new SNAP card is being mailed to them if they do not.

The state is waiting to hear how it can apply for the funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund that are determined based on the state’s percentage of Title I, Part A students. The one-time appropriation could top $389 million for Michigan and can be used for preparedness and response efforts, sanitation, learning at a distance and professional development.

Toward the end of the meeting, public comment was received from two participants, including Bloomfield Hills Schools Board of Education President Paul Kolin. He noted that one of the major concerns, particularly for students, is how grading will be handled in this temporary environment. He requested that MDE provide guidelines that all districts can follow in order to be equitable to all students.

MASB will be on the lookout for follow-up to this inquiry as well as others. Updates, as they become available, will be posted on the MASB website and/or sent via email.

We look forward to hearing more from you in a State of the Association webinar with MASB Executive Director Don Wotruba, CAE, on Tuesday, April 21 starting at noon. Please register in advance in order to receive the link to the broadcast.

Take care and stay safe!

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