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Detroit schools to keep students remote this month

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Students in the state's largest school district will not be returning to in-person learning until at least February, Detroit superintendent Nikolai Vitti said on Monday, citing the high COVID-19 positivity rates in the city and statewide.

Vitti said although the positivity rates have declined since November, they are still too high to resume in-person learning. The city of Detroit's rate is 7.1% as of Monday and the state's rate is 7.83% as of Sunday.

Nikolai Vitti

The superintendent said he hopes the district's learning centers, where studentsattend school in person but only meet with teachers online, can resume service this month. Students who attend the centers are supervised by other DPSCD staff members.

"We are hoping rates decline below 5% shortly and maintain below that threshold so learning centers can reopen by mid to late January," Vitti said in a statement on Monday.

"Shortly the district will reissue its learning and teaching preference survey for K-12 online or in-person learning to families and teachers for the third quarter (starting at the beginning of February). We hope to resume in-person K-12 learning by early to mid-February assuming positive infection rates continue to decline."

Vitti said the district, which had a Dec. 1 enrollment of 49,393 students, committed to relying on science and data to reopen schools for in person learning in the summer and fall and relied on the same criteria to suspend all K-12 classes in November.

Michigan's ban on in-person learning for high schools expired on Dec. 20, clearing the way for local districts to decide whether to send students back into building, keep them home for virtual learning or a combination of the two methods. Classes in DPSCD, the state's largest district, resumed on a remote basis Monday after the holiday break.

Chrystal Wilson, DPSCD spokeswoman, said the district suspended in-person learning on Nov. 16 when the city of Detroit's COVID rate passed 5%. The district had a target date of Jan. 11 to re-evaluate face-to-face learning.

"We are looking at the data and the infection rates," Wilson said Monday. "Although it is lower in the state and Detroit, we are not at a point where we can resume in-person. It's still too high."

Terrence Martin, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, says his members want to return to classrooms when it's safe to do so.

Terrence Martin, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said Monday the union is paying close attention to the rates as well and that Vitti is following an agreement reached between DFT and the district over when schools had to close to in-person learning.

"What the superintendent has said is consistent with the agreement we made," Martin said. "We are looking for that 5%. Until we get that 5%, we would not advocate reopening school for in-person learning."

The union leader said teaching students online remains challenging and teachers miss their students. Returning to face-to-face learning is the goal, he said.

"We want to happen and we want it to happen safely," Martin said.