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Michigan House OKs bill to address rules on Oxford attendance, testing after shooting

Lansing — The Michigan House on Thursday passed a $6.8 million supplemental spending bill that attempts to resolve lingering questions over Oxford Community Schools' ability to end the school year June 10 without fear of reprisal for not meeting state school day requirements. 

The bill, which passed on a unanimous vote, encourages the Michigan Department of Education to work with the northern Oakland County district to ensure the schools aren't penalized for failing to meet state standards for attendance in light of the Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School. 

The legislation includes language indicating it is not the intent of the Legislature for the school district's yearly assessments this year to guide grade retention or teacher evaluation decisions.

The school district and Michigan Education Association had expressed concerns over the past week about the lack of clear language excusing the district from meeting state standards for days, hours, testing and teacher evaluations. 

Oxford High School officials expect it will miss the state's instructional day requirement for Michigan schools by 24 days and other Oxford public schools are short by an average of 11 days, district spokeswoman Danielle Stublensky said earlier this week. 

Many students have taken the required annual tests, but others chose not to take them or had difficulties that may cause the school to fall below benchmarks requiring 95% of students to take the test, Stublensky said.

"They need to do what's right and get something passed," Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Ken Weaver said Tuesday at the district's board meeting. "We are ending June 10 because it's best for the kids."

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Michigan rules require schools to achieve a floor of 75% attendance and miss no more than six to nine school days a year. Additionally, yearly state assessments such as the Michigan Merit Examination can be used to decide whether a student should be retained a year or used to evaluate teachers. 

The $6.8 million bill and attached boilerplate language appears to waive those requirements for the year.

The supplement bill passed Thursday initially was in the House budget plan for the coming year. But the chamber on Thursday moved the funding piece into a separate bill that could be moved more quickly to give the school district finality on the matter rather than make it wait until budget negotiations on the larger over $70 billion spending plan are concluded. 

The $6.8 million includes about $5.8 million targeted for mental health and safety resources, legal services, a third-party review of the shooting and repairs to the high school building. Another $1 million is to be used to make the school district whole for any funding lost because of the shortened school year.

The House bill needs to go back to the Senate for approval before it can go to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for her signature. 

Staff Writer Jennifer Chambers contributed.