Detroit public schools shifting to online learning starting Monday, Nov. 16

Suspension of face-to-face learning to continue until Jan. 11, 2021

A district spokeswoman said Thursday that learning centers will remain open Monday, and possibly longer, for parents who will be shuffling to find child care.

DETROIT – The Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) will shift from face-to-face learning to online learning starting Monday, Nov. 16.

A district spokeswoman said Thursday that learning centers will remain open Monday, and possibly longer, for parents who will be shuffling to find child care.

The suspension of face-to-face learning will continue until Jan. 11, the district said.

“All classes will be held online starting Monday, November 16 due to the rapid increase in the COVID-19 infection rate in Detroit. Face-to-face learning and learning centers will remain open this Thursday and Friday to provide families time to rearrange educational support for students. As a courtesy to families, learning centers can be used on Monday if adjustments to childcare could not be made over the weekend. The suspension of face-to-face learning will continue until January 11. If positive rates in the city improve then the district will consider reopening learning centers before that date. This decision was made in collaboration with the city’s health department," reads a statement from the district.

The Detroit School Board and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti indicated that if the rate of infection approached the 5-7 percent threshold, the district would consider discontinuing face-to-face instruction in schools. The city infection rate was nearly 5 percent last week and has been increasing this week, the district noted.

“The district relied on science and the data to reopen schools for in-person learning this summer and fall and relied on the same criterium to decide that it was no longer safe for our students and employees to work in an in person school environment. Without a vaccine, we will remain accountable to that 5-7 percent infection rate,” said Vitti. “I am remarkably proud of district staff, principals and school level staff who have stayed faithful to our COVID-19 safety strategies. This has allowed us to keep schools open for in person learning and access to our learning centers with a limited number of outbreaks as compared to other districts and schools throughout the state. Despite the reality of COVID-19, we have been able to keep employees and students safe and serve them directly if their families needed that level of support. As we have been doing throughout this pandemic, we will continue to adjust to serve our students and families by expanding direct technology support for families while also continuing to feed students.”

Meanwhile, the district said three meals will continue to be distributed on Mondays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and four meals on Thursdays during the same timeframe.

The DPSCD Board, through the Chair, Iris Taylor released this statement on the shift:

“This pandemic is a challenge we are working through alongside all of you. We are listening and making the necessary adjustments to uphold our commitment to provide the best public education option for Detroit’s students and that their opportunity is equitable for every family during this pandemic and beyond.

The priority at this point is physical safety. All decisions are made with students' best interests at the forefront and in consultation with health authorities. We ask everyone to follow the guidelines of the health authorities, wear your masks, wash your hands, stay home when you are not feeling well and continue to educate others around you.

We are acutely aware there is more work to do, we are identifying better ways to support families during these unprecedented times. Please continue to share your input. We want to specifically thank the Detroit Health Department for ongoing guidance, readiness, and support. We ask the community to continue to share your ideas, philanthropy, and volunteerism to help us stay 100 percent focused on the individual needs of each child. We are committed to supporting your students rise!”

Detroit schools were offering options

DPSCD had been offering options for parents including online learning, in-person learning and a hybrid of both amid the coronavirus pandemic. Over the summer, Vitti said the school system had seen a “desperate need” for in-person learning after they were forced to shift to virtual learning in the spring. Michigan K-12 schools stopped in-person learning beginning in March when the pandemic first swept into the state.

“The online learning wasn’t ideal and our children have fallen farther behind,” Vitti told CNN.

In preparation for the fall semester, Vitti told CNN that the district had implemented a $23 million plan to ensure every student has access to a device and internet for remote learning. Vitti said DPSCD was “well positioned to fund additional safety measures” for the upcoming school year, including purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE) for all staff and students.

Vitti believed it was 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.

The new move to online learning by DPSCD comes as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations surge in Michigan. Michigan’s 7-day moving average for daily cases was 5,040 on Tuesday, the highest it has ever been. The 7-day death average was 46, the highest since early June. The state’s fatality rate is 3.5%. The state also reports “active cases,” which were listed at 86,600 on Tuesday, its highest mark on record.


What role are Michigan schools playing in spread of COVID-19?

From Local 4′s Dr. Frank McGeorge:

With many school districts in Metro Detroit and across the state of Michigan returning to remote learning, others have recently sent their students back to school.

Parents have been left to wonder what’s driving the vastly different decisions.

It’s a great example of a situation where one size doesn’t fit all. While masks are mandated in all Michigan schools, some have different abilities to reduce the spread of COVID-19 with smaller classes, more space, and better ventilation.

Parents, administrators, and community members want to know what role schools are playing in Michigan’s COVID-19 spike. While it’s abundantly clear that colleges have generated a high number of cases across the country, it’s not as simple for younger grades.

There have been outbreaks -- defined as two or more connected COVID-19 cases in people not of the same household -- in Michigan schools. Many have objected to the term “outbreak,” but essentially, it involves schools where transmission is documented or highly probable.

Michigan’s school outbreak list doesn’t include schools with students or staff members who have tested positive but haven’t appeared to spread the virus to others.

That’s a much more common scenario, which suggests the safety precautions are working in many districts. But experts don’t know how many asymptomatic cases are spreading.

Students have found younger children are more likely to be asymptomatic than adults. Without regularly testing students and staff members who don’t have symptoms, it’s impossible to know how often children are silently spreading COVID-19.

As the number of cases rises in a given community, the same can be expected for the schools in that community. As COVID-19 spreads more rapidly statewide, it’s reasonable to expect we will reach a level of spread in which in-person schooling is no longer practical.

School districts are trying to balance the desires of parents to have children in school and the fact that students learn better in person. Different districts have different risk tolerance and resources to reduce risk, which is why decisions shave been left up to local leaders.

More: Tracking coronavirus cases, outbreaks in Michigan schools