Detroit, Flint schools delay return to in-person classes

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Students in public schools in Detroit and Flint will remain at home to learn until Jan. 31 as Michigan's fourth COVID-19 pandemic surge continues.

Officials at Detroit Public Schools Community District announced Wednesday that online learning will continue through next week and that students and staff will return to in-person classes on Jan. 31.

Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said on Thursday the city’s infection rate is declining but is still high at 25%.

"Based on the current trend we will be between 10% to 20% by Jan. 31, which is where we believe it will be safer and easier to manage inevitable positive cases," Vitti said.

In December the district began remote learning on Fridays to address mental health concerns and provide more time for cleaning buildings amid rising COVID-19 cases.

In January, in-person and online classes were canceled from Jan. 3-5 to allow employees to be tested for COVID. Districtwide online learning began Jan. 6 and has continued for students this month.

Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti announced that online learning will continue through next week and that students and staff will return to in-person classes on Jan. 31.

All DPSCD students must have a COVID testing consent form on file to return to school in person, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti wrote in a statement on the district's website.

All district employees are required to work in person on the day their school or work location is scheduled for COVID testing during the week of Jan. 24, school officials said. Or employees can voluntarily test at a drive-thru testing location on Saturday or after work hours at drive-thru testing locations next week.

In Flint Community Schools, Superintendent Kevelin Jones said Wednesday he had hoped students could return to in-person learning on Monday but decided against it after discussions with local health officials and due to the continued rise of COVID-19 cases across Genesee County and the state.

The district has been in remote learning since earlier this month.

"We have decided to continue with distance learning until further notice to protect the health and wellbeing of our scholars, families, teachers, and staff," Jones wrote in an email to families. "This means scholars will continue distance learning next week, starting January 24, following their regular school schedule each day."

As of Jan. 13, the test positivity rate for Genesee County was 38.4% and there are 1,232 new COVID cases per 100,000 weekly, Jones said

"Genesee County is at high transmission risk as our testing positivity rate exceeds 10% and our new cases per week exceeds 1,000 per 100,000 population. To lower the transmission number, and to keep it low, we must actively continue distance learning until further notice," Jones wrote.

Michigan's top health officials have described the state's COVID-19 situation as "critical" and urged vaccinations and boosters and masking as a fourth surge of the virus has driven up hospitalizations. 

Michigan on Wednesday added 86,009 COVID-19 cases and 501 deaths from the virus, including cases from Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

The state averaged 17,202 confirmed cases per day over the five days. Of the latest deaths reported, 346 were identified during a delayed records review, according to the state health department.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday recorded 4,453 adults and 114 pediatric patients are hospitalized with confirmed infections in the state.