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Detroit public schools shift to new reality during coronavirus outbreak

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has closed all K-12 schools in Michigan until April 6.

This week school districts across the state are adapting to a new normal: Governor Gretchen Whitmer has closed all K-12 schools in Michigan until April 6 in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Michigan Radio Morning Edition host Doug Tribou spoke to Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti about how the district is responding.

“Once the universities started to close and move to an online platform, it was very hard to describe to our employees why we also wouldn’t close," Vitti said. "I completely understand that our families in our community rely on traditional public schools as a form of child care during the day as parents work, but we are a learning organization. ... So I started to advocate early at the city level, at the state level that we had to consider closure.”

What Detroit Public Schools Community District is doing to support students

  • Grab-and-go breakfast and lunch is being served at 58 school buildings 
  • School bus drivers or cafeteria workers will deliver meals to medically fragile students
  • For K-8 students: academic packets are available at any of the 58 locations, access to online tools i-Ready, and MyOn
  • For high school students: SAT workbooks, and online access to Khan Academy programs (free and open to public)
  • A complete list of resources can be found here.
  • The district  has also a homework hotline: (833) 466-3978

On handling lost classroom time

"I think we're going to have to think of this as an abbreviated school year with either rethinking the second semester of this year from a credit perspective, from a grades perspective, and from a time that students would have to be in the classroom," he said. "The only way not to do that is to move to a completely online platform, and I think operationally that would be challenging by the end of this year and into the summer. Now, if we were extending the closure period into the fall, then I think we could move into an online platform type of situation, but we would need time to transition into that."

On lessons learned from Florida disaster preparedness planning

Vitti previously worked in school districts in Miami and Jacksonville, Florida, where hurricane damage is an annual threat

“You learn how to manage the crisis – not panic – but problem-solve, listen and then communicate,” he said. “I think most of our families in DPSCD, most of our employees have been supportive about the way we’ve handled this. But I will tell you, even dealing with the natural disasters that we dealt with in Florida, I felt that there was an end-point that you could communicate, a definitive timeline and that’s what’s challenging right now is that we don’t know how long we’ll be closed, and that’s unsettling for our families.”

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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