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Detroit schools want parent feedback on learning options for fall

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

The Detroit Public Schools Community District wants parent input about how their students will be learning in the fall.

DPSCD is offering both fully virtual and face-to-face instruction. District officials say they want a parent feedback surveycompleted by August 4, though the “drop-dead deadline” for responses is August 21.

DPSCD is defending its decision to offer in-person learning to students whose families opt for it in the fall. It’s faced some harsh criticism and accusations of treating students as “guinea pigs” during the COVID-19 pandemic. An ongoing lawsuitis trying to shut down the district’s in-person summer school program.

But DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vittihas consistently maintained that Detroit students and families need both options. At a district-organized press conference on Friday, a group of DPSCD parents explained their choices.

Crystal McKinley said she’s chosen virtual learning for her third-grade son. He’s in a Montessori program, which depends on student interaction and tactile learning, and McKinley doesn’t feel safe to do that in-person right now.

“As far as the kids being socially distanced in a system that allows them to be social and learn, [that] is a tough thing to do,” McKinley said. “So that’s why I made a decision to keep him home.”

Kenya Gough, whose son is a rising tenth-grader at Osborn High School, said she will choose in-person learning because “my son is not mature enough to be accountable for his learning experience.” And she’s confident that the district has a “safe re-opening plan."

Gough said that when the onset of the pandemic shut down schools in March, she was able to stay home and help her son with school. “But when the fall comes, I need to return to work,” she said. “I cannot leave him at home to supervise his own learning experience. So he has to be in a structured educational environment.”

DPSCD spokesperson Chrystal Wilson said the district needs feedback about parent intentions in order to properly allocate resources by the time school starts.

“We respect the options of our families,” Wilson said. “We want to give them both face-to-face and online support. We need to ready our support so we can meet our needs.”

Wilson said the district is also in the process of reaching out to teachers and staff to feel out their preferences for the fall, but wanted to get feedback from parents first.

Jessica Ouinissi said her daughter will do virtual learning. But Ounissi said she can only manage that because she works an afternoon shift, and has family support. She knows some other parents don’t have that flexibility.

“All of the parents that I’m speaking to, that’s like the main part of their decision-making,” Ouinissi said. “Because for some people, they just don’t have options.”

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Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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