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Detroit school district extends Thanksgiving break as COVID cases rise

Students learning in a classroom at desks in Detroit with a literature textbook in the foreground of the photo.
The Detroit school district is now part of a wave of school districts in Michigan that are closing for the full week of Thanksgiving.
Anthony Lanzilote for Chalkbeat

The Detroit school district surprised families with news Friday evening that schools will close all of Thanksgiving week for deep cleaning, the latest Michigan district to extend its holiday break amid rising COVID cases.

The decision was announced just days after officials told the public that schools would move to remote instruction for three Fridays in December to address concerns about mental health, COVID cases, and school cleanliness. Both announcements come as the state is leading the nation in new COVID cases.

The district was initially set to observe its Thanksgiving break Wednesday through Friday, but officials informed families in an email and robocalls that online and in-person learning will not be conducted on Monday and Tuesday either. All school buildings will reopen to students and staff on Nov. 29.

“Our school-based custodial teams and the Central Office Facilities team have been working hard through the pandemic to keep schools clean and these two days will provide them additional days and time for cleaning and sanitization to ensure a strong return to in person learning,” the statement on the district’s website said.

Reaction from parents was mixed. “All of these changes are actually putting my job at risk,” said Caitlin Reynolds, a district parent. With short notice, Reynolds was concerned about finding child care for her son for Monday and Tuesday. “People are blind sided. There was just no communication.”

Others applauded the decision.

“I think that it will be best for schools to shut down for the week,” said Latrese Taylor, a parent with three sons in the district.

Taylor said she and her family had COVID earlier in the year, and she would like to see the district go further in its efforts to slow the spread of the virus. “I think (deep cleaning) is helpful but I also think that testing for all children should be made mandatory. I think that would be a safeguard for everybody.” Currently, COVID testing is optional.

A number of school districts across the state have already announced they are cancelling classes Monday and Tuesday, a departure from a typical Thanksgiving break of Wednesday through Friday.

Ann Arbor Public Schools made the announcement Wednesday, citing increases in COVID cases and staffing shortages. Similar issues are at play in the Galesburg-Augusta Community Schools, Muskegon Public Schools, Ravenna Public Schools, and Wyoming Public Schools, all in West Michigan.

School districts have been focused on deep cleaning buildings despite federal guidance that says the risk of infection from touching surfaces is low.

School leaders are also citing a need for a mental health and wellness break for students and staff.

“The adjustment back to a learning environment after 18 months virtually has proven to be a stressful and anxious time for many of us,” Muskegon Superintendent Matthew Cortez said in a letter posted to the district’s Facebook page. “While this couple of days of time is not a solution, it is a step in the right direction toward encouraging relief and self care that we all need to practice.”

Other districts planning to close for the week include Grand Haven Area Public Schools, Ypsilanti Public Schools, and Godfrey-Lee Public Schools.

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