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Bankole: Detroit schools face high stakes in COVID-19 response

Bankole Thompson

The coronavirus pandemic has laid out not only the structural inequities in health care, but also in the education of our kids: Poorer school districts that suffer from unequal funding and limited resources will now have to cope with the challenges and complications of returning to school in September with the virus at large.

In fact, a warning last week from the World Health Organization that the worst of the pandemic is yet to come makes clear about the dangers the virus still presents. It also creates a very precarious situation for underserved schools districts like those in Detroit, which plan to reopen in September, according to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's plan.

Given the severity and scale of the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on a majority Black city like Detroit, the school district will need to take extra caution to mitigate the COVID-19 threat to the health of its students and teachers to avoid turmoil and disruption in classroom teaching.

The school district will need to take extra caution to protect students and teachers, Bankole writes.

The stakes will be high for Detroit because it is a high-poverty district and some families will not be comfortable with their children going back to school. In fact, Nikolai Vitti, the superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, challenged the state on that issue on his Twitter page recently.

“Despite some clarity regarding returning to school in the fall (which we agree with) the state has yet to answer serious questions about the 20-21 budget and fully funding students whose families should be empowered to use a district full-time virtual option,” Vitti said.

Days earlier, Vitti offered this: “If we are required by the state to develop safety standards for children and adults to return to schools (which we should, can and will) then we can for extra-curricular activities. Period. If we can’t then we should not be back in schools.”

How DPSCD navigates the challenge in the fall when students begin showing up for face-to-face classroom teaching will be an important marker in public education’s response to the pandemic. The virus has already exposed the digital divide — the lack of available tools and opportunities for students in economically disadvantaged communities to access online learning during the summer.  

But educating poor students in Detroit is just as important as teaching their counterparts in rich and affluent suburban districts. It underscores the need for educational equity in the era of COVID-19.

An internal plan that DPSCD released lays out precautions that are to be taken to prevent the spread of virus in the fall, which is consistent with the general COVID-19 response from health authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They followed a survey of some of 4,000 parents, where 61 percent said they are prepared to send their students back to school if safety measures are adopted for their well-being.

According to the plan, students will be screened every morning prior to entry, and those who are experiencing symptoms will be directed to the isolation area where a district official will assess the student. The district will provide masks for students and staff. Signs will be posted throughout buildings promoting social distancing as well as regular cleaning and disinfecting. Classroom seating will also be rearranged to allow for six feet of space, and the district plans to place limits on students sharing objects and supplies.

“The district’s plan is to open schools, as expected, with live instruction occurring on Tuesday, Sept. 8. We also know, however, that our day-to-day operations in schools and offices will not look the same as any prior year. Our fall reopening is focused on three possible scenarios for schools. In all scenarios, it is generally understood that some families may want to make more use of virtual instruction while others may want students to attend school in-person,” DPSCD noted.

bankole@bankolethompson.com

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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