Hillel Day School
(Courtesy of Hillel Day School)

Online learning will not count toward required hours for public schools; Jewish Day Schools are exempt; U of M offers pass/fail option.

As education at every level faces massive disruption due to Michigan’s social distancing measures, public schools are facing the gravest obstacle to on-time graduation.

The Michigan Department of Education released a memo on Friday, March 20 informing all public school leaders that online classes will not count toward required instructional hours.

“There is no mechanism to earn instructional time during a period of mandated school closure,” Venessa Keesler, deputy state superintendent, said in the memo. “However, schools can and are encouraged to offer supplemental learning opportunities to students using distance learning methods as they see fit.”

In response to this memo, Governor Gretchen Whitmer released a statement of her own, expressing her “dismay” with the memo and reassuring students, faculty and parents that her office will be “working in the coming days to ensure our seniors graduate and that no child is held back as a result of our inability to provide face-to-face instruction during the COVID-19 school closure.”

Whitmer’s statement goes on to note that many districts are not only providing supplemental instruction to their students, but also offering essential breakfast and lunches to students who need them.

“Each district should determine what services and supports they are able to provide during this unprecedented crisis. Many are focusing on meeting basic needs and are working around the clock to provide breakfast and lunch for hungry students,” Whitmer said. “Other districts have the ability to provide more learning support as a result of one-to-one technology initiatives. I am in awe of the work that school employees are doing to support their kids, and I applaud their efforts.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Rice also released a statement, acknowledging that Michigan public schools are facing a tough situation due to current state laws.

“State law limits us in this situation — not for an individual child in an individual cyber school or an individual virtual course offering, but for children across the state, many of whom have no computers at home, no connectivity, and no adults to monitor their learning and/or technology,” Rice said in the statement.

In order for schools to receive their full funding allocation from the state, they must report 75% student attendance every day. Students must also be provided 180 days and 1098 hours of instructional time.

“According to state law governing education delivered in traditional public schools, we can’t count instructional time if we can’t count students,” Rice said.

Rice is urging the legislature to change state laws to permit days out of school for this public health emergency to be counted as instructional days, just as they did when Michigan endured the polar vortex in January and February of 2019.

“Under the current conditions, the legislature should also make clear in law that the school year will not be extended into the summer,” the statement read.

Private Schools, Jewish Schools Exempt

Private schools are not affected by the Michigan Department of Education policy, according to Brian Broderick, executive director of the Michigan Association of Non-Public Schools.

“Since non-public schools in Michigan don’t receive any funding from the state, the memo and policy can’t impact our school,” Broderick told the Jewish News. “Our online instruction that the schools in our organizations have set up will count towards instructional time for our students. This will also count towards the 180 mandatory days of instruction.”

Broderick’s organization oversees all the Catholic, Lutheran, Christian and international schools and several preschools. This includes roughly 400 schools throughout Michigan.

Hillel Day School sent out an email to parents reassuring them that the school will not be affected; they will continue to count online instruction toward required instructional time.

“As you know, our faculty and technology staff are doing an incredible job ensuring that they are meeting the needs of our students and engaging all learners,” Hillel Principal Melissa Michaelson said in her email. “The state decision does not determine the minimum school day requirement and/or the way Hillel promotes its students.”

Frankel Jewish Academy also informed parents, students and faculty via email that virtual instruction “will absolutely count towards graduation for FJA students and students will receive credit for the coursework that is being completed through distance learning.”

“As you know, our faculty and technology staff have done incredible work this week to ensure that the education we offer FJA students will continue to be at the highest caliber,” the statement said. “Our students have been flexible and have demonstrated incredible leadership and patience throughout the implementation of distance learning.”

Farber Hebrew Day School is continuing to use their virtual instruction to enhance their student’s learning and will also count it towards their student’s required instructional hours.

“Our students will continue to advance as they normally would from one year to the next and we are implementing the virtual instruction as if our students were in school,” Rabbi Scot A. Berman, head of Farber, told the Jewish News.

Colleges Altering Grading Policies

The University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses have altered their course grading policies for the remaining of the winter semester.

Acting Provost Susan Collins emailed Ann Arbor faculty and students on March 20 informing them that, under the alternative grading policy, faculty will enter traditional letter grades, but undergraduate students will receive either “Pass” or “No Record Covid” on their permanent transcripts.

UM-Dearborn Provost Sue Alcock emailed faculty and staff announcing that the campus’ governing faculty approved the option for undergraduate and graduate students to convert some or all of their winter courses to a Pass/Fail grading mode.

UM-Flint is also considering following Ann Arbor and Dearborn’s lead.

Under the new policy, undergraduates at the Ann Arbor campus who receive a “Pass,” or “P,” will receive the full course credit. The grade cut-off for a “P” will be the same as the traditional grade minimum for students to receive course credit, which is a C-.

Students who are interested will be able to request that a “Pass” be converted to a letter grade through a process that will be described in greater detail in the weeks to come. Such requests must be made by July 1.

Students who receive “No Record Covid,” or “NRC,” will receive no course credit, but their grade point average will not be affected.

At UM-Dearborn, students will be encouraged to speak with an academic or faculty adviser before deciding to switch a course grade to Pass/Fail so they can fully understand the impact of the switch on their academic progress. The deadline for students to switch to the Pass/Fail mode is April 8.

Michigan State University’s students have started an online petition that has gathered over 11,000 signatures asking MSU to give students the option to have their classes be evaluated as either pass/no credit. MSU has not announced any official changes to its grading policies.