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Detroit district to start winter break early, citing low attendance

Detroit’s Southeastern High School, a large brick building surrounded by a chainlink fence. There is a logo of a yellow paw print on the door.

Prior to the Detroit school district’s announcement, Friday was set to be the last of the three remote Fridays in which students were to learn online.

Anthony Lanzilote for Chalkbeat

The Detroit school district surprised families with news Thursday afternoon that all schools will be closed Friday.

The closure will extend the winter break one day. The district cited health and safety reasons in social media posts announcing the closure. But Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said low attendance on remote Fridays was a major reason.

Friday was to be the last of the three remote Fridays in which students were to learn online. Vitti  said in an email that student attendance for last week’s online learning day “fell below” the 75% attendance rate the state requires. When districts fall below 75%, they can lose a portion of their state aid.

Historically, days before long vacations bring low student attendance, Vitti added, saying there is “no reason to use the day” to again fall short of the state requirement.

The district also cited concerns that some students who check out laptops to learn during what was to be the last remote Friday would not return them after the winter break. Vitti said schools would be “operationally challenged” if the laptops are not returned. The laptops, he said, are used for day-to-day instruction and testing. During the remote Fridays, students were able to check out a school laptop on Thursdays, but were required to return them the next Monday.

“The day off also serves as an opportunity to address the culminating challenges we have all experienced regarding COVID and social media threats.” The latter refers to threats the Detroit district, and many across Michigan, have been receiving after the shootings at Oxford High School on Nov. 30 that left four students dead and many others injured.

Rumors of a potential districtwide dismissal had circulated ahead of the official district statement. All school buildings will reopen to students and staff on Jan. 3. 

In late November, before the Thanksgiving break, district officials announced schools would move to remote instruction for three Fridays in December to address concerns about mental health, COVID cases, and school cleanliness. The district also extended its Thanksgiving break two days.

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