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Detroit Public Schools Community District will be the first district in Michigan to open its buildings to students during the COVID-19 pandemic next week when it allows a "small" group to take Advanced Placement exams there, even as schools remain shut statewide.

The district says the action is permitted under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's order closing schools for the rest of the academic year, but at least one instructor and the head of the local teachers' union are expressing safety concerns about the plan. 

Chrystal Wilson, spokeswoman for DPSCD, said Friday that fewer than 100 students will be coming into nine school buildings to take the exam in the next three weeks because they lack internet access at home or did not receive a laptop from the College Board, which administers the exam.

"This is a 45-minute test that can be taken over a 10-day period. About 100 students do not have internet access and will go to nine schools with about 25 personnel rotating among the schools and 10 days," Wilson said.

Wilson said Whitmer's executive order, which closed schools to combat the spread of COVID-19, allows classroom buildings to be used for distance learning and other activities such as food distribution.

"In this case, it would be permissible under the Order for a small number of staff, mainly school-based administrators and volunteer teachers to proctor the exam," Wilson said in an emailed statement. "School personnel and students would be provided with masks and gloves. This will include a small number of students who would be socially isolated in separate classrooms or in classrooms six feet from each other, in nine schools."

Whitmer's order states "school buildings used for the provision of K-12 education must remain closed for the purpose of providing K-12 education in person for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, unless restrictions on public gatherings and use of school buildings are lifted before the end of the 2019-2020 school year."

Wilson said the district does not want its students to lose the opportunity to gain college credit for courses they completed.

"We can do this in a safe way for a limited number of students," she said. "In the end, does it make sense to deny students the opportunity to receive college credit for a class they took?”

The College Board, which administers the exam, announced last month that high school students in AP courses across the United States would be taking their AP exams online at home in May, as students remain shut out of school buildings for the remainder of the school year due to the coronavirus epidemic.

One DPSCD teacher called letting students and staff into buildings during the pandemic a terrible idea and said he won't show up to help give the exam.

Steve Conn, an AP teacher at Western International High School, said Friday he was asked by the district to enter the school on Monday to administer the exam, which can give high school students college credit.

Conn provided The News with an email from Marsha Lewis, an assistant principal at Western, asking at least 14 district teachers or administrators to proctor exams next week.

"We have been given the go ahead from the district to allow students who need technology to test at Western," the email from Lewis says. "If you are willing to come into the school and proctor please indicate acceptance."

In the email, Lewis asks teachers to tell students to arrive one hour before the start time.

Conn said he has spoken to AP students who were encouraged to come into school for the test.

"As for my students' opinions, I can tell you that when I talked to them about this issue, they seemed perplexed about why the district was encouraging them to come into school," he said.

Conn said DPS knows the College Board is allowing students to take this year's exam online at home and has guaranteed all students that they will lend them the necessary technology if they don't already have it at their home.

"Why should DPS invite these same students (and their teachers) to come to school for the exam??? It means inviting people to let down their guard and take the UNNECESSARY RISK of contracting the disease, and either getting sick themselves, or taking it home with them to infect their families," Conn said in an email to school officials.

In response to a question from The Detroit News about whether DPSCD's plans would violate Whitmer's order, spokeswoman Tiffany Brown emailed a copy of the order.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Dana Nessel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Students without a device or internet access were asked last month to contact the College Board directly about exam accommodations. Taking a photo of handwritten work will be an option, the College Board said.

Terrence Martin, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said Friday he was aware of plans for administrators and students to enter buildings for the exam, but the district did not ask the union to send teachers into buildings.

"It does concern me," Martin said. "Kids going into building and the general public not being aware of the plan, and how kids and adults are going to be safe and what will social distance (be) looking like, without having all that, I don’t really understand it."

The governor issued her order April 2 shuttering all K-12 buildings through the end of the academic year, which is June 30.

State school board president Casandra Ulbrich said the Michigan Department of Education is not aware of any other districts that have opened doors to students during the pandemic.

Chris Wigent, executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, said he has not heard of any other Michigan school district allowing opening buildings to students.

Officials with the College Board announced exams will be offered from Monday through May 22 and students may take them on a tablet, smartphone or laptop/desktop computer. There will be two exam dates for every subject.

AP is a program created by the College Board that offers college-level curricula and examinations to high school students. In the 2018-19 school year,110,149 Michigan students took AP exams, which are optional.

In March, College Board officials announced the exam would be reduced from its normal three hours — with multiple choice questions, a document-based essay and long essay questions — to a 45-minute online test with free response questions. No multiple choice questions will be included.

Students scoring well on end-of-course AP exams are eligible to earn college credit. Students need to receive a score of 3 or higher, out of 5, on an AP exam to qualify for college credit.

The exams will be open book and open note, officials with the College Board said.

jchambers@detroitnews.com

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