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Detroit parents share mixed feelings about upcoming switch to remote Fridays

The hand of a student appears in front of a laptop screen, as they attempt to complete an attendance report for that day of virtual learning.
The Detroit Public Schools Community District’s announcement of remote Fridays generated debate among parents.
Andrea Morales for Chalkbeat

Detroit parents largely expressed support Thursday for the Detroit school district’s plan to return to remote instruction for three Fridays in December.

On social media and in conversation with Chalkbeat, the announcement generated debate among parents, with many supporting what they saw as the district’s efforts to keep buildings safe. Others pushed back, saying deep cleaning is ineffective and noting that closing schools on Fridays will hurt parents who need to work.

“It is clear to me that Michigan, and it appears the rest of the U.S., is entering a surge that will only worsen as more activities move indoors during the colder months,” said Kimberly Uhuru, a parent of a senior at Cass Technical High School.

Uhuru said she supports the district’s decision as a “reasonable adjustment to counteract” rising COVID cases. She also believes the district should mandate weekly COVID testing for students. Currently, COVID testing is optional.

Learning will move online Dec. 3, 10, and 17, before the holiday break begins Dec. 20. The district’s decision comes as Michigan is leading the nation in new COVID cases. Students and teachers are expected to show up online for remote learning on those days.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said in a statement to community members that he and the school board made the decision “after listening and reflecting on the concerns of school-based leaders, teachers, support staff, students, and families regarding the need for mental health relief, rising COVID cases, and time to more thoroughly clean schools.

The federal Centers for Disease Control recommends cleaning in facilities, for instance, “if a sick person or someone who tested positive for COVID-19 has been in your facility within the last 24 hours, you should clean and disinfect the spaces they occupied.” However, the CDC makes it clear that the risk of infection from touching surfaces is low.

“It’s not spread by hard surfaces, it’s spread by aerosolized contact, droplets, kids sneezing on each other,” said Caitlin Reynolds, whose 9-year-old son attends a district school.

But other parents are convinced that the deep cleaning the district is planning is necessary.

“If they’re not doing the right protocols, they need to be on top of that, and if that means having virtual (learning) some days of the week until they have the proper measures in place, then that’s what they should do,” said Sharon Dillard, a Martin Luther King High School parent.

“It’s not right for kids to come into unsafe environments.”

King students staged a walkout on the same day as the district announcement took place, with students and staff criticizing the district’s COVID protocols. The school had reported six new cases this week.

Stephanie Senford, another King parent, was cautious about how her twins would respond to a return to remote instruction but welcomed the district’s focus on addressing COVID protocols within the building. The Wednesday walkout, she added, left her concerned about whether schools across the district were regularly meeting safety standards.

Some parents and staff were encouraged about the remote instruction days, viewing them as a opportunity to give staff a much-needed break away from in-person work, while others were uncertain what effect one virtual day of classes a week would have on mitigating COVID cases without continual enforcement of other COVID protocols such as testing, social distancing, and mask wearing.

“The schools need a deep clean regardless of COVID spread,” said parent Amber Hunt.

“I wish the state would be more lenient on funding, as what teachers and staff truly need is mental health Fridays, not trying to quickly set up and juggle virtual classes once per week.”

Hunt added that she hoped the district’s decision was a “step in the right direction” and could encourage more parents and children to get vaccinated in order to remain in school rather than stay remote.

Dillard said she felt reassured about her daughter going in person because her entire family was vaccinated, but believed that the district may have to take stricter protocols such as suspending after-school programs or activities.

“Anytime you’re trying to avoid infections or viruses, deep cleaning is going to help in some ways, but, of course, this virus is pretty potent, so we need to be making sure other measures are in place: temperature checks, masking, sanitation stations.”

Other parents and family members were critical of the school district’s decision.

“Many homes may not be equipped with Wi-Fi, parents have to go to work, and student attendance will probably decrease and consider this a free day,” said special education advocate and district grandparent Sharon Kelso.

“School is in session until June 2022 … this is only a short-term solution.”

Margaret Daniel, a district grandparent, believed the responsibility to mitigate COVID is on families as much as it is on the district.

“COVID can still spread Monday through Thursday,” she said. “This virus is spreading because people are not doing what needs to be done in their families’ lives to help stop the spread.”

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