DETROIT – Dozens of protesters were blocking a Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) bus garage on the first morning of in-person summer school.
The protesters were holding up signs expressing their concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic at the garage site on Greenfield Road near Joy Road on Detroit’s west side.
Detroit police were planning to either end the protest peacefully or disperse the crowds.
Meanwhile, the district is preparing to host in-person summer classes beginning Monday -- nearly four months after Michigan K-12 schools shut down due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
School officials said this all has been voluntary for teachers and students. They said parents have the option not to send children to these summer classes, and teachers had the option not to volunteer. Now, the children that would have been bussed to school on Monday will not be.
“The question isn’t whether or not parents have the option to send their kids to school, the issue is that it’s an option in the midst of a pandemic when we know it’s not safe. And, again I want to point out none of the suburban school districts are opening up for summer school,” said Tristan Taylor, one of the protesters.
DPSCD Superintendent Nikoli Vitti told CNN that the school system has seen a “desperate need” for in-person learning.
“The online learning wasn’t ideal and our children have fallen farther behind,” Vitti told CNN.
Michigan school districts had to switch to remote learning without much notice once the pandemic hit the state in March. Some schools had the necessary technology and infrastructure to make the switch seamlessly -- others have struggled to provide students with the technology and bandwidth required to complete classwork from home.
In either scenario, working families have had to adapt to having their children home all day and helping them to navigate new learning systems. Vitti told CNN that remote learning has put additional stress on working parents, who may not have the ability to assist with their children’s virtual learning amid the pandemic.
In an effort to return to some sort of normalcy, DPS will offer some in-person classes during the summer session, July 13 through Aug. 6. The district will offer both in-person and virtual learning courses, and families have the ability to decide which option they prefer.
The district says in-person learning will require daily self-assessments for COVID-19 symptoms and temperature checks for both staff and students. Face coverings and social distancing will be required in the classrooms. A maximum 1:15 adult to student ratio is expected during the summer programs, officials said.
Officials also say classrooms and buses will be disinfected each day to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In preparation for the fall semester, Vitti told CNN that the district has implemented a $23 million plan that will ensure every student has access to a device and internet for remote learning. Vitti says DPS is “well positioned to fund additional safety measures” for the upcoming school year, including purchasing personal protective equipment for all staff and students.
An official plan for the fall has not been announced, but Vitti believes it is best to offer both virtual and in-person instruction amid the pandemic.
“Some teachers have legitimate health issues and should have the option to teach online for their well being,” Vitti told CNN.
Reopening K-12 schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic has been a controversial topic throughout Michigan and across the country as COVID-19 cases increase at a rapid pace. The federal government has been pushing to reopen schools in the fall, while health officials are worried that it may not be safe.
Though there is not currently a clear mandate for how -- or if -- schools should resume in-person learning in the fall, officials are still preparing for that option.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer released the “MI Safe Schools Return to School Roadmap” in June and the CDC released considerations to help administrators assess the risk of the spread of COVID-19 and how to account for it when reopening schools.
Gov. Whitmer said in a Facebook post on Thursday that she will “not send our kids and our education workforce into our schools unless it is safe to do so, plain and simple.”