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VanderWall supports Return to Learn plan agreement

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Curt VanderWall on Saturday voted for a bipartisan plan to help ensure the safety of Michigan students as learning resumes this fall.

“One of the many challenges facing us in these unusual times is determining how our kids are going to get back to school safely,” said VanderWall, R-Ludington. “Republicans and Democrats today put aside some partisan disagreements and crafted a solution to this problem.”

The Return to Learn plan gives districts flexibility on the total number of mandated instructional days and hours as long as a full school year’s worth of instruction is provided. The bills also require regular two-way interaction between students and teachers, regardless of how they are offering classes. This is intended to ensure students enrolled in distance learning options receive the benefit of personal attention.

Funding according to the plan will be determined using a blend of the 2019-2020 school year pupil count and the 2020-2021 school year pupil count. The blended average will help ensure stability in funding levels.

The impact of COVID-19 varies over time and across geography, VanderWall said. Under the Return to Learn plan, school districts must develop health and safety guidelines for all in-person instruction.

The guidelines must be based on local data and developed in consultation with county health departments. The guidelines should help inform staff, parents and the community as to how and why certain instruction models are selected.

The bills require benchmark testing to be conducted in the classroom, online or at home. Test results will be shared with parents, so they understand their child’s learning needs, and they will be used by each school district to establish academic goals.

“Learning needs differ among students and between communities,” VanderWall said. “This plan will empower districts to make decisions that are best for them.”

House Bills 5911, 5912 and 5913 now head to the House of Representatives, where they are expected to receive final approval and be sent to the governor for her signature.