First the Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee and then the full Senate voted this week to pass SB 644, a bill that would offer districts some much needed flexibility for counting students who are learning remotely due to the pandemic. With the October count day now in the books, we know that this bill is coming late in the process. Still, the February count day remains in the offing and districts are likely going to continue to struggle with student absences and remote learning due to COVID-19 throughout the school year. And the scope of the legislation goes beyond FTEs and attendance and fixes some ongoing problems with teachers of record for virtual learning.

The bill has only passed the Senate and still needs to get through the House, but the quick passage in the senate signals that this could move fast. Last week MASSP gave a high level overview of the legislation since a final bill had yet to be introduced or voted on. This week, let's review the key details of how this legislation works in case you want to adjust something in your building (especially since the count period is still open for students who were absent on count day and for students who are learning virtually).

Teacher of Record Provisions

Many districts are scrambling to ensure they have appropriately certified teachers of record identified for all their students in the wake of MDE's September 2 memo on Teacher Certification Requirement for Membership Purposes 2021-22. SB 664 would eliminate these teacher of record concerns by making two important changes:

  • Tweaking section 21f to allow ALL third party virtual course providers who employ Michigan certified teachers to supply schools with a teacher of record for virtual courses, and
  • Waiving all financial penalties under Sec. 163 for the current school year so districts don't lose funding in the event they misstep with teacher placement during this particularly difficult school year.

Pupil Accounting Provisions

  • Explicitly allows for pupils in quarantine who are educated virtually on a temporary basis to be counted for an FTE during the 2021-22 school year provided the district can document one two-way interaction per week during the four week count period (the same as for full-time virtual students). Further the bill would waive the requirement to obtain parent permission and to have an EDP on file for these students.
  • Allows for pupils in quarantine who are educated through hard-copy educational materials like homework packets on a temporary basis to be counted for an FTE during the 2021-22 school year provided the district can document one two-way interaction per week during the four week count period.
  • Delineates who qualifies as being in quarantine to require that the quarantine is "pursuant to an order, notice, recommendation, instruction or directive issued by the local health department" (i.e. it can't just be a district policy, but it doesn't have to be a formal emergency order) AND a pupil meets one of the following conditions:
    • Has tested positive for COVID-19,
    • Resides in a household with someone who tests positive,
    • Is displaying symptoms of COVID-19, or
    • Was close proximity to an identified cluster (see note)
    • NOTE: a cluster is defined as "3 or more pupils, teachers, or school employees or workers who have been infected with COVID-19 in the same classroom over a 14-day period."
  • Allows for pupils in quarantine who are educated virtually or through hard-copy materials to be counted toward meeting the 75% attendance threshold provided the district can document one two-way interaction PER DAY during the time the pupil is learning remotely. The bill also requires that students participating virtually under this bill count toward meeting the 75% attendance requirement, which doesn't normally apply to virtual students. MASSP is aware of what a burden a daily interaction requirement could present. We are advocating for a change to weekly interactions to align with other statutory requirements. But we also hope that the impact of this language will be limited since it only applies if a district is choosing to educate a pupil virtually during a quarantine and is trying to count that student in attendance.
  • "2-way interaction" is defined using the broader definition that MASSP advocated for during the 2020-21 school year and means a communication that occurs between a pupil and the pupil's teacher or at least 1 of the pupil's teachers or another district employee who has  responsibility for the pupil's learning, grade progression, or academic progress, where 1 party initiates communication and a response from the other party follows that communication, and that  is relevant to course progress or course content for at least 1 of the courses in which the pupil is enrolled or relevant to the pupil's overall academic progress or grade progression 

Closing Thoughts

Even if the pupil accounting flexibility ends up not being helpful – either because it comes too late in the process or because the additional two-way interaction requirements are too burdensome – this bill is still good news for Principals. First, it offers much needed relief on the teacher of record front. Second, it acknowledges that Michigan's pupil accounting system needs updating to accommodate the new realities of post-pandemic learning.

MASSP is hopeful this bill gets a quick hearing and vote in the House, but we don't yet have any good indication of what the future holds. Regardless, we will continue to keep members informed as this issue develops.