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DeVos created/connected groups are criticizing the number of public schools that are not going back to in person learning due to the COVID virus

January 19, 2022

The COVID pandemic has been used by political groups and those of various ideological persuasions to pit people against each other or to attack institutions like government and education.

The attacking has been very visible on the matter of public school closings because of the COVID pandemic. On January 7th, the DeVos-funded group, the Michigan Freedom Fund, post a piece entitled, Governor Whitmer’s Silence is Deafening. The post attempts to not only lay the blame at the feet of Gov. Whitmer for some school districts shift to virtual learning, but also blames “union bosses and school bureaucrats.”  There is also a Michigan Freedom Fund created video that just edits together a series of people stating that the best place for kids to be is in schools and that Gov. Whitmer is silent on the issue.

On that same day, January 7th, the right wing think tank, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, posted a piece entitled, School Districts Shut Down Classrooms Again. The Mackinac article provides a more data-driven response than the Michigan Freedom Fund post, but it also uses the opportunity to criticize Gov. Whitmer. The Mackinac article then states:

Many school districts, along with private schools, have found a way to remain open. Admittedly, school systems are struggling with a host of challenges after the prolonged impacts of COVID-19. Those challenges include everything from difficulties finding substitute teachers and bus drivers to shifting requirements for virus testing and quarantine procedures. In some cases, there are enough students absent and quarantined to cancel class.

This paragraphed is certainly more nuanced and it does acknowledge the complications around what has been causing some school districts to close, such as having too many students and staff with COVID. This was certainly the case with a school in Grand Rapids, where COVID and staff shortages led to the decision to go to virtual learning, as reported on by MLive.

The Mackinac article also provides a link to private schools finding ways open safely, but the link that the article provides is from March of 2021, some 10 months ago. If there is anything that we have learned during the pandemic is that nothing stays the same, with COVID cases spiking and new variants emerging all the time. It also happens that the link that was included is from the same Mackinac Center for Public Policy writer Ben DeGrow, who writes exclusively for Mackinac around education issues, where he consistently attacks public education and advocates for privatization.

There is a third DeVos connected entity, the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), which also attacks Gov. Whitmer in their January 10th post, entitled, Gretchen Whitmer’s War Against Kids. The GLEP article also blames “bureaucrats and union bosses,” but little substance to back up their claims. This is standard operating procedure, since GLEP was created by Betsy DeVos and one of its board members is Greg McNeilly, who not only runs Dick & Betsy DeVos’s Windquest Group, but is the President of the Michigan Freedom Fund. 

Just a few days ago, the Great Lakes Education Project posted an additional attack against Gov. Whitmer and the Democratic Party, this time using the claim that Michigan Democrats don’t think that parents should have a say in what public schools teach. This response from GLEP was based on a meme posted by the Michigan Democratic Party, shown here on the right. There was so much backlash against this, that the Michigan Democratic Party removed the meme from their Facebook page. On Monday, according to the Detroit News, the Michigan Democratic Party made the following statement:

“Parents need to have a say in their children’s education, end of story. The post does not reflect the views of Michigan Democrats and should not be misinterpreted as a statement of support from our elected officials or candidates.”

Getting beyond the often banal partisan politics involved, what seems to be missing in much of the criticism about public schools that are shifting to virtual learning again is the realities of what has been happening with COVID in recent months, particularly with the omicron variant. 

On January 13, MLive reported another record breaking day of new COIVID cases in Michigan, with an average of of 16,000-plus cases a day.

In regards to schools, the data is also fairly alarming. MLive reported on January 11th:

In total, health officials are aware of 225 active school-related outbreaks affecting at least 5,706 students and staff, according to a report published by the state Monday, Jan. 10.

The January 11 MLive article also provides detailed information on reported COVID cases by schools across the state, with a searchable database that is 63 pages long.  

One last component that is also omitted from the larger discussion of public school and COVID polices/closings, is the fact that there is now a growing number of student-led strikes/walkouts across the US that is directly because more and more students don’t feel safe in schools.

One example is from Okemos, Michigan, where students walked out of school over COVID and other issues. The Lansing-based TV station, WLNS 6, also includes a student created flyer that is calling for an addition Sit-Out, as seen here.

It is understandable that parents are upset about how schools are responding during the pandemic. All of our lives are in an upheaval because of the pandemic, but policy makers and partisan politics are generally not making things easier for the public, for parents, and definitely not for students during this crisis. 

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