Parents rally for face-to-face learning in Grosse Pointe schools

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

While Detroit parents have protested against in-person summer school classes in recent weeks, Grosse Pointe parents rallied for the opposite on Sunday. 

More than 100 people including families who brought their young children and dogs, marched about three-quarters of a mile to protest the Grosse Pointe Public School System's decision to start students in remote learning for the upcoming school year. 

"We're not saying open the schools tomorrow, you know, 100% face to face, we understand that's probably not reasonable, but we want to know what are we working toward or where is the data that we're using to get us there," said Tracy Skupien, one of the organizers of the march and a parent of two students at Grosse Pointe South High School. "We have to start living our life sometime."

The district is offering families two options for the 2020-21 school year. Parents can choose between OneGP,  a 100% remote learning option, or GPPSS Traditional, which will allow students to return to face-to-face learning once the district deems it safe enough, according to the district website. 

Demonstrators held signs that read "flatten the fear" and "school is essential" while yelling chants such as "shame on our school board."

Both options require students to start the year remotely. 

"The recommendation is to start the 2020-21 school year in remote learning and OneGp Virtual. Remote learning would gradually turn to in-person when the time is right for the safety and security of our students, faculty, and staff," Superintendent Gary Niehaus said in a release . 

When reached on Sunday, Niehaus referred to his previous statement. A representative from the Grosse Pointe Education Association, which represents teachers and staff, did not return a request for comment. 

The march, which was organized by Skupien and another parent, Kelly Gill, started on Cadieux Road and Kercheval Avenue near Maire Elementary School. Families continued the march down Kercheval to Grosse Pointe South High School. 

Demonstrators held signs that read "flatten the fear" and "school is essential" while yelling chants such as "shame on our school board." 

Skupien said she and a group of other in-person learning supporters wrote a letter with 500 signatures demanding answers from the school board on why there isn't a clear option for students to have face-to-face classes. The group plans on presenting the letter at a virtual school board meeting on Monday, when the board will approve the Return to School plan.

The Tompkins family, including left to right, Hadley, 9, sister Emily, 7, mother Katie, father Charlie and sister, Tory, 4, all of Grosse Pointe Park, march with others.

"I'm a stay-at-home mom and I'm not a teacher ... and I don't want to blur the line between being a parent, and being the teacher because it's a very different role and it's very difficult for me. They need a professional person," said Katie Tompkins, 39, whose three children attend Maire Elementary. "I don't want my kids sitting in front of a screen for three hours a day."

The semester is set to start Sept. 8 for the district. Staff, families and students will have access to additional training on remote learning, Niehaus said in his letter. 

Families received an email July 31 and Skupien said it came as a surprise as some thought in-person learning would be made available sooner.