This post originally appeared on Michigan Chronicle.

By Roz Edward

Summer school is voluntary for many but critical for some students who lost ground academically during the COVID-19 school closures. The pandemic brought into focus the understated problems of a ‘separate but equal’ learning environment that endures between Black and White school systems.

To eradicate or at least minimize those learning losses the Detroit Public School officials are working feverishly to catch up students who fell behind during the pandemic. DPSCDC is throwing open its doors and offering summer learning and enrichment programs that any Metro Detroit student can attend.

In a letter of agreement signed on May 25, 2021, by the Detroit Public Schools Community District and the Detroit Federation of Teachers, the educational entities agreed that it is essential to address the learning losses already compounded by racial disparities in a system that serves a largely disadvantaged and at-risk minority student population.

DPSCD will provide in-person summer school classes for K -12 students, particularly for high-needs students whose learning gaps increased disproportionately following school closures and the move to virtual learning.

DPSCD has 49,931 students in grades PK, K-12 with a student-teacher ratio of 17 to 1. According to state test scores, 12 percent of students are at least proficient in math and 18 percent in reading. When Detroit School Superintendent Vitti reopened schools on May 1, 2021, an estimated 20,000 students were expected to report to school or about 40 percent of the total.

But they didn’t.  On the first day of school, in March of 2021,  8,000 Detroit students were missing. They weren’t present for face-to-face instruction nor did they appear for online learning. Some hadn’t been seen since they left school in March when coronavirus caused schools to close and send students home.

Detroit has the highest rate of chronic absence of any large city in the U.S. according to findings of a collaboration between Wayne State University’s College of Education and a constellation of community partners interested in improving Detroit schools, called the Detroit Education Research Partnership.

Prior to the COVID pandemic, the probability that a student will miss school was highest in summer (June), with exceptionally high rates of absence in the last two weeks of school. Nearly 4,000 DPSCD students (about 7 percent) reached the threshold for chronic absence in the last two weeks of the school year.

In 2018-19, no day in June had less than 20 percent of students absent; and in the last week of school, the rate of absences increased from 40 percent on Monday to 60 percent by Thursday.

The pandemic has exacerbated school enrollment as well as school attendance. During the 2019-2020 “parents of more than 17,000 students told their public school districts upon exiting this year that they were homeschooling their children,” wrote Michigan State School Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice in an op-ed. Michigan has about 13,000 fewer kindergarten children than last year,” Rice added.

Detroit Public Schools Community District, the largest in the state, said it lost 1,000 kindergartners this year.

Given those figures, DPSCD and the DFT in the aftermath of COVID-related school closures and student losses are enacting a summer school program for 2021 which is completely voluntary, although not attending may impact class placement.

DPSCD’s voluntary, in-person summer programming mixes academics with recreational and in-person socialization activities to spur academic, social and emotional recovery for students.

Summer School is anticipated to begin on Monday, July 12 through Thursday, August 5, 2021. The five-hour-long summer school day will provide assigned summer learning activities for all interested students.