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Detroit to keep students home as virus cases surge in state

Kids wearing masks at computers
Mediteraneo / Adobe Stock

Michigan's largest school district will suspend in-person classes next week, joining other districts that have shifted to online-only classes as coronavirus cases rise significantly around the state.

Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says he can't ignore a city infection rate that is climbing after reaching nearly 5% last week. Vitti faced criticism from some teachers and activists for offering a face-to-face option for the roughly 50,000 students. But Vitti insisted that Detroit families needed choices.

But now, Vitti said the situation has changed, as the city surpasses the 5-7% positivity rate the district had set as a threshold for safe in-person learning.

“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% infection rate,” Vitti said in a statement.

Around 10,000 DPSCD students had been going to school buildings either for in-person instruction, or to use virtual learning centers. The district now says the earliest it could re-open for face-to-face learning is January 11, though learning centers could re-open earlier if community positivity rates decline.

LaWanda King had three children attending school in-person. She said that with smaller class sizes, and safety precautions like temperature checks and mask-wearing, it felt like her children were safe--but the district can't ignore skyrocketing COVID-19 rates.

“The safety and the health of the children is the number one priority," King said. “I mean, that’s the only option for them at this point. I wish they didn’t have to do it, though.”

Monica Delgado's eight-year-old daughter was also attending in-person school. Delgado felt she was too young to really thrive in virtual learning, and missed seeing other kids.

But Delgado agreed with the district's decision to go all-virtual for now. “We have to do the right thing, and we have to respect the health authorities," she said.  "And our schools will be there to help us out.”

Vitti said the district will boost technology supports for families, and continue offering school meals.

Delgado said she'll be able to make time for virtual learning with her youngest daughter, because she's a stay-at-home mom. But she recognized that many working parents don't have that option, and she's concerned about how those families will fare.

“For example my brother, he works, he’s divorced, he’s got five children," Delgado said. "I don’t know how he’s going to do it. It’s going to be hard.”

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.
The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.
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