by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer claimed Tuesday that Michigan students were only kept out of classrooms “for three months.” But many students struggled with remote learning for more than a year, and Whitmer encouraged school closures even after her shutdown orders expired.
During a debate against Republican challenger Tudor Dixon, Whitmer minimized the prevalence of remote learning in Michigan schools during the coronavirus pandemic. “Kids were out for three months,” the Democrat claimed, seemingly referring to her initial orders that shuttered schools in 2020 from mid-March to early June. Months later, however, Whitmer’s health department again suspended in-person high school classes for a three-week period starting November 15, 2020. And in April 2021, Whitmer urged schools to shut down for another two weeks, citing “alarming” virus numbers.
Beyond the Democrat’s shutdown orders and recommendations, many Michigan students were forced to learn remotely for a considerably longer timetable than the one Whitmer cited Tuesday. Schools in Detroit and Grand Rapids, for example, remained closed for most of the 2020-21 school year, while students in Ann Arbor and Flint entered 2022 with remote instruction. That’s in part because Whitmer rebuffed calls from state Republicans to require Michigan school districts to offer an in-person learning option for K-5 students. Instead, Whitmer’s plan allowed districts to return to the classroom—or not—on their own accord, a decision the Democrat defended in early 2021 after some districts failed to develop an in-person option. “You know what, I’m not going to second-guess individual districts,” Whitmer said at the time.
Dixon has spent much of her campaign attacking Whitmer’s response to COVID-19, and Tuesday night was no different. After Whitmer’s “three month” school closure remark, Dixon accused the Democrat of not “paying attention to what was actually happening.” Dixon continud ro highlight the exchange in post-debate media appearances, suggesting she hopes the issue will propel her to victory in a race that’s tightened in recent weeks.