Lansing, MI - Protect Our Public Schools Vice President Ellen Offen wrote an open letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos asking the secretary to prove she is working for Michigan students, teachers, and parents instead of playing with puzzles. The letter is included below.
Dear Secretary DeVos,
Recently, you told the Washington Examiner that you are at your house in Grand Rapids, “passing the time by going on walks and bike rides, and by completing puzzles.” You added, “I like the challenge.”
Currently, Michigan’s public schools are facing actual challenges - “the greatest threat, or challenge, to public education in our lifetime,” according to Chris Wigent, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators.
COVID-19 and the economic fallout of this pandemic have only exacerbated the long-standing challenges facing Michigan’s public schools:
- As many as 500,000, or 1/3, of all Michigan students don’t have the broadband access or personal devices to facilitate remote learning. The CARES Act package did little to alleviate this disparity.
- Michigan schools face a $700 per student cut in funding, while new reports show each school in Michigan needs $1.7 million more funding per school to open their doors this fall. Instead, Michigan superintendents are being forced to make millions of dollars in cuts, resulting in large-scale staff layoffs.
- Roughly 200,000 Michigan students with special needs are underserved and are among those most affected by the budget cuts.
- Approximately 750,000 Michigan children rely on schools to receive nutritional assistance and meals every single day.
- Each school counselor – critical in getting students back on track after the severe disruptions this year – must cover the needs of roughly 729 students. Yet the American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of one counselor to every 250 students.
- Michigan also has roughly 1 nurse for every 6,570 students, and over half of all our students have no access to clinical care at all. This is nearly 10 times the recommended ratio of one nurse per every 750 students. Common sense tells us these workers will be at the frontline protecting our children as schools reopen in the fall.
Parents across the state are struggling to make sense of important questions about how to keep their kids and families safe when schools re-open in the fall. Yet, as of this writing there is NO plan from your Department of Education that provides our public schools clear guidance, necessary resources, and actionable steps on how to safely reopen. Your department is the logical place from which clear, actionable national guidance should come and where the appropriate resources can be marshalled.
On March 27th, you stood before national television and claimed to be having frequent daily contact with local education leaders. Thirteen weeks later, you still have actionable guidance that translates complex virology and medical questions on an unfamiliar virus on essential basics, such as:
- Safe set up for classrooms
- How to most safely seat students on busses
- How thoroughly and how often to clean bathrooms
- What to do with school lockers, which were never designed with social distancing in mind
On behalf of the concerned parents, teachers, students, bus drivers, janitors, and residents of Michigan – we respectfully insist you:
- Tell us how many hours you have worked each day on average during the last four months.
- Release a detailed record of your work calls and meetings you have had during the past four months.
- Provide a complete list of “education leaders” with whom you and your senior staff have contacted in the last four months.
Your job is to provide our schools the resources and guidance they need to ensure our children receive a quality education in a safe environment. It’s not to sit in your house doing puzzles and going for bike rides.
To be frank, we want to know if you are doing your job.
Ellen Offen, Vice President Protect Our Public Schools