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Detroit schools switching to "Virtual Fridays" in December; superintendent suggests vaccine mandate may be on the horizon

Back of a school bus

The superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District is implementing “Virtual Fridays” starting next month—and suggested vaccine mandates may be forthcoming.

In a letter posted on the district’s website, Nikolai Vitti said all DPSCD schools will be virtual every Friday in December.

“After listening and reflecting on the concerns of school-based leaders, teachers, support staff, students, and families regarding the need for mental health relief, rising COVID cases, and time to more thoroughly clean schools; and reviewing strategies to address these concerns with the School Board, I have decided to shift districtwide instruction on December 3rd, December 10th, and December 17th (all Fridays) to online learning,” Vitti wrote.

DPSCD reported 367 student and staff COVID cases last week. The district requires weekly testing for teachers and staff, and for students with parental consent.

Vitti noted that DPSCD must achieve at least 75% attendance on virtual learning days, “or districtwide online learning days will not be a viable option for us the rest of the school year” due to state attendance requirements. After-school programming is canceled on virtual days, but scheduled sporting events will continue.

Vitti also suggested that vaccine requirements might be on the horizon. “With the recent vaccine approval for children ages 5 to 11, the district will move forward with greater consideration of vaccine requirements for employees and students,” he wrote. “Inevitably, this is the best way to ensure everyone’s safety and the need to create reliable learning schedules and patterns for students despite the ongoing and forever presence of COVID.”

Detroit has among the lowest COVID vaccination rates in the state. Only 42% of Detroiters have received at least one vaccine dose, compared to nearly 60% statewide (for those age 5 and up).

DPSCD’s Renaissance High School is also closed for the next 10 days, “due to the high probability of related cases across multiple grade levels and programs,” according to district spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson. Students there are scheduled to return to in-person learning after Thanksgiving break.

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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