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Detroit schools superintendent says vaccines alone won’t restart in-person instruction

Glenn Carstons-Peters

Michigan’s public schools have moved online, following orders from the state Department of Health and Human Services. Nobody wanted to conduct a school year like this, least of all Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD). Since fall, the school district offered a hybrid model of instruction including online and in-person. Making that decision was difficult.

“We knew that we wanted to be true to equitable access to education. We knew that private schools were opening,” Vitti said. “And for a lot of our families, it just was not going to be realistic to learn from home because of work responsibilities, feeling uncomfortable about directly supporting students at home, managing multiple jobs, multiple siblings."

But even though there were a large number of students utilizing the schools’ in-person learning centers, the positive infection rate of DPSCD reached 5% — the number that Vitti determined would prompt in-person facilities to close.

“It was a very hard decision because we knew that about 10,000 students about 10% of our population were either using the learning centers or coming to school for in-person learning,” he said.

The school district established thirteen technology hubs in which parents and students can go to ask questions about their tech devices or online schooling. Before the pandemic, the schools would solve technological issues in the building, but now with 50,000 tablets being out at home, the demand has significantly increased.

The technology hubs launched on December 1, and Vitti said approximately 400 parents came to ask questions. DPSCD also established mental health, homework, and I.T. hotlines. Vitti said those hotlines recieved over 2,000 calls once they went active.

Absenteeism has always been an issue long before the switch to online learning. Fifty to sixty percent of the students in DPSCD struggle with chronic absenteeism. Vitti said that online learning has made the issue worse.

To counteract the effect that online learning had on absent students, the school district implemented a home-visit program to meet with and engage students. The home-visit program reengaged 3,000 students who initially never logged onto their online classes at the start of the school year, according to Vitti.

“There’s no question that we’re seeing acadmeic loss. We’re just not at a point to clearly identify what that looks like beyond more students failing their individual classes,” Vitti said. “So this is why the home visit process, this is why the original learning enters, and now the hubs are important just to continue to problem solve and offer more and more and more services to try and meet our parents and children where they’re at.”

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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