By Jessica Mathews & Jon King /

Governor Gretchen Whitmer says it’s crucial that schools re-open for in-person learning, which she stressed can be done without compromising health and safety.

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, the Governor noted that 83% of Michigan school districts are now offering some form of in-person instruction. Whitmer has strongly encouraged schools to provide a face-to-face option by March 1st. While some students and families have been successful with distance learning, Whitmer said far too many have struggled. She said the significant loss of classroom hours and instruction have long-term consequences on a child’s development as they risk falling through the cracks and staying stuck behind.

Whitmer said there are not only academic consequences but disheartening impacts on mental and physical health – noting anxiety and depression rates are up while child immunization rates are down. She noted further that staff who are trained to detect and address child abuse and neglect are unable to do so remotely. However, with all of the various assets and hurdles in different districts, Whitmer said they want decisions to be made at the local level and empower districts to get back in the classroom. According to, only five districts have yet to set a date for when students can return to in-person learning; Kalamazoo Public Schools, Van Dyke Public Schools, Southfield Public Schools, Harper Woods Schools, and Flint Community Schools.

One of the districts that had been holding out on resuming face-to-face instruction was Ann Arbor Public Schools, but following months of complaints by parents and others, the district on Wednesday approved a plan to offer in-person learning for K-12 students two days a week starting March 25th, although an all-virtual will remain for those families who want it.

Meanwhile, Whitmer said her administration will announce the further loosening of coronavirus restrictions in the coming days, but did not provide details. A state health department order limits indoor restaurant capacity to 25%, imposes a 10pm curfew and restricts the size of inside residential gatherings to no more than 10 people from two households. That order is in effect through March 29th.

It was noted that while the state is doing well, progress is fragile and they need to make sure they’re doing enough tests to quickly identify any new cases including cases infected by new variants. Whitmer said case numbers and public health metrics are trending in the right direction and Michigan is in a much stronger position but they continue to watch data and are determining the next steps. She said they know that the biggest places of spread in the fall were attributed to in-home gatherings. If they take any steps, Whitmer said they will be incremental like all re-engagements so they don’t contribute to a larger spread. She said the gatherings order is one component of the possible areas where they might make some changes in the coming days.

She also used the conference as an opportunity to again call on the GOP-led legislature to release to schools about $1.7 billion in federal money to deal with the pandemic. Republican lawmakers have withheld those dollars as part of a negotiation to force Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to give up authority to close schools over COVID-19. Whitmer said that money would fund testing and other safety measures for schools, and said the standoff has forced the state to delay lab enhancements needed to deal with the rising numbers of tests being administered.