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Detroit district reopens after a month of remote instruction

Parents pick up their young students from school on a sunny winter day.

Parents and caregivers stood outside a wing of Marcus Garvey Academy on Detroit’s East Side on Jan. 31 as students wrapped up the first day back to in-person learning since the district went on holiday break in December.

Ethan Bakuli / Chalkbeat

Yellow school buses returned to their Detroit routes Monday morning as the Detroit Public Schools Community District resumed in-person learning for the first time since going remote on Dec. 16. Parents walked arm in arm with their children on the way to school or parked outside the building to drop them off.

At day’s end at Marcus Garvey Academy on the East Side, parents greeted students as they  exited the building. Less than a few miles away, high schoolers left Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School in crowds, catching up with friends as they walked to their parents’ cars or waited at the bus stop.

It was a cheerful end to a stressful and exhausting month for students, parents, and teachers. Students learned remotely in January as the COVID omicron variant led to a post-holiday surge in infections across Detroit. DPSCD returned to in-person learning Monday as the city’s infection rate over a seven-day average went down to 20.4% last week, down from hovering around a 30 to 40% positivity rate in late December and early January.

The return came after a week in which lawmakers, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, urged schools that were still remote to return to in-person learning. District officials have said low vaccination rates, coupled with the high infection rates, would have made a return sooner unmanageable.

The district’s COVID protocols stayed the same as in December: daily symptom and temperature checks, universal masking, social distancing, and hand sanitizer stations. 

“I’m kind of skeptical with COVID still going on, but it’s better for them in person,” said Queonna Roberson, a district parent of four children.

As of Monday, students are required to receive weekly COVID testing with parental consent.  The district engaged in a month-long push to encourage parents to sign their child’s consent form for weekly saliva testing by calling households and reminding students to inform their parents and caregivers during remote learning. The consent rate went from 65% on Dec. 31 to 92% as of Jan. 28. 

School officials will call the families of students this week who do not have signed consent forms to receive verbal consent from parents or caregivers. Students who do not have parental consent to receive a saliva test will be transferred to the district’s virtual school before the end of February.

Students, families welcome return to classroom

As Jimmy Jones, a grandparent and caregiver of an 11th grader at Martin Luther King Jr. High School, dropped his grandson off in the morning, he said his grandson had mixed feelings about returning to the classrooms.

“He didn’t know whether to be excited or nervous, but he wanted to come back to school,” Jones said.

For many parents and caregivers, the return to in-person learning was a relief compared to the challenges of remote learning. 

“That was a journey,” said Tamra Rigby, a parent at Garvey Academy who waited for her 7-year-old son after school. She said he struggled to sit still through virtual classes and could benefit from receiving in-person support from his teachers.

Snowstorm could disrupt in-person learning this week

As local weather reports project a big snowfall across metro Detroit this week, the Detroit school district has run out of snow days.

The district has used all six of its forgiven days for health and safety reasons, Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti recently said. Even if Detroit receives a projected foot or more of snow, Vitti said last week that the district will make few exceptions to wintry weather moving forward.

“Let’s say next week we have a snowstorm. We will not have the day off,” Vitti said during a parent listening session on Jan. 26. 

“The worst-case scenario is that we’ll have an online learning day. So we will protect employees from having to drive to work, drive home from work, and parents don’t have to put their children on buses. But we’ll have an online learning day and hope we get as many people logging in as possible.”

For caregivers, it’s just another facet of a challenging school year.

“They just got back to school and now there’s this big snowstorm that’s coming,” Jones said.

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