Detroit public schools suspend in-person learning until January as COVID-19 cases surge

Nov 12, 2020 at 11:40 am
click to enlarge Activist group By Any Means Necessary protests reopening the city’s public schools amid the pandemic. - Courtesy of BAMN
Courtesy of BAMN
Activist group By Any Means Necessary protests reopening the city’s public schools amid the pandemic.

Parents and caretakers have through the weekend to adjust work schedules to accommodate the temporary suspension of all in-person learning throughout Detroit Public Schools Community District.

The announcement, made Thursday by the district's administration, discontinues in-person learning starting Monday, Nov. 16, at which point all classes will pivot to a remote format through Jan. 11.

DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the decision to reopen for in-person classes in the first place was based on science and data, which is also how they came to the decision to quickly move back toward remote-learning as cases increase throughout the state, and as metro Detroit's COVID-19 infection rate approaches 5-7%.

“I am remarkably proud of District staff, principals, and school-level staff who have stayed faithful to our COVID-19 safety strategies. This has allowed us to keep schools open for in-person learning and access to our learning centers with a limited number of outbreaks as compared to other districts and schools throughout the state,” Vitti said in a statement.

“Despite the reality of COVID-19, we have been able to keep employees and students safe and serve them directly if their families needed that level of support. As we have been doing throughout this pandemic, we will continue to adjust to serve our students and families by expanding direct technology support for families while also continuing to feed students.”

The district's decision to resume in-person learning this summer was met with protests from education advocacy groups, civil rights organizations, parents, and faculty, who called into question the safety of the students. One such activist group, By Any Means Necessary, spearheaded a protest which blocked school buses from picking up students, as well as a lawsuit against DPSCD in an attempt to stop summer classes, which resulted in a judge ordering the district to test its summer school students for COVID-19.

Benjamin Royal, a teacher, executive board member with the Detroit Federation of Teachers, and caucus member with Equal Opportunity Now and By Any Means Necessary, hailed the suspension of in-person learning as “a victory for the people of Detroit.”

“This fight started over the summer where we laid the groundwork for the district to finally have to acknowledge how impossibly dangerous it is for the schools to be open during this pandemic,” Royal said in a press release. “And an increasing number of parents have been withdrawing from face-to-face programs as the case numbers continue to skyrocket. It was only a matter of time before the schools would have to shut down for lack of students anyway.”

He argues that the district should not question whether it should reopen for in-person learning at all this year, adding that the next four months are poised to be the deadliest yet since the pandemic started in March.

A September prediction made by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington suggested that the U.S. could be facing a worst-case scenario of 600,000 deaths due to COVID-19 by Jan. 1.

“Now is the time for all districts to follow Detroit’s lead and declare for fully virtual learning until mass testing confirms the pandemic is no longer spreading,” Royal said. “Every union of teachers and other school employees must also fight to shut down any schools that remain open now and to win the right of all school employees to work from home.”

Royal also called for Superintendent Vitti's resignation.

"DPSCD administration also needs to drop its legal claim that districts are prohibited from mandating COVID-19 testing," he said. "They are trying to put 'individual rights' before the health and safety of hundreds of thousands of students, teachers, parents, and community members. Superintendent Vitti needs to resign now."

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