LASATA: Online instruction should be counted during times of crisis

On March 12, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered all schools in Michigan to be closed in response to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak.

While this and other executive action taken by the governor has likely helped to mitigate the spread of the virus, the orders have not come without making a significant impact on our society, economy and education of our children.

Many school districts, educators and parents in southwest Michigan and throughout the entire state have stepped up in big ways to help provide students with continued educational opportunities during the school closures. I have been in contact with school leaders in Cass, Berrien and St. Joseph counties, and they are all participating in some form of educational enrichment to help keep kids engaged.

This, of course, is in addition to the efforts the districts have taken to ensure free meals are being provided to those who need them.

While this enrichment effort has been of great benefit to many, last week the state Department of Education announced that students receiving online instruction during the coronavirus emergency will not be able to count it toward required annual instructional time.

Like our governor and southwest Michigan residents, I was alarmed to read this announcement, and I will do what I can to work with the governor’s administration and the Department of Education to address any statutory hurdles that may prevent schools from being credited when they provide online learning.

One proposal I support would be to provide for so-called “e-days,” which would function similarly to the “snow days” that our school districts receive annually. When the allotted snow days are exhausted, or in situations like we are experiencing currently when schools are closed by an emergency order, e-days would be made available.

Such a law would ensure our school districts, educators and families would be better prepared to continue educational offerings during such occurrences, and it would ensure that the instruction time is counted toward the state’s annual requirement.

In the meantime, since none of us knows how long this situation is going to last, I support and encourage everyone to do what they can to educate our children during this extraordinary time in our state’s history. Tough times call for tough people, and I continue to be amazed by the remarkable resilience of our southwest Michigan community.