This post was originally published on Michigan Chronicle

By Sherri Kolade

Nikolai P. Vitti, Detroit Public Schools Community District superintendent, wrote a letter to the DPSCD community about the change due to spikes in COVID-19.

“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. We will follow the regular school schedule and time on these online learning days,” Vitti said in the note.

Vitti added that it is important to note that everyone has to work to ensure that the school district meets or exceeds 75% districtwide student attendance on the three days or districtwide online learning days will not be a viable option for the school district the rest of the school year.

“As a reminder, the state requires 180 days of instruction at 75% districtwide attendance or the district pays a funding penalty,” Vitti said. “We have met this districtwide threshold each school day since the first day of school in September. On these three days of online learning, all school-based and central office staff, except those whose work cannot be completed from home, will work remotely on the designated days. Administrators will have the discretion to require specific staff to work at their regular work location if performance concerns exist with remote work or special assignments must be completed at the regular work location.”

The following personnel will report to their normal work site on these three days:

  • All Public Safety Personnel
  • Facility Staff
  • School Nutrition Staff
  • Van Drivers
  • Warehouse Staff
  • One Administrator/Designee (each school and Central Office Department)

The district will provide Grab-and-Go breakfast and lunch meals on Thursday, December 2nd, 9th, and 16th during dismissal at their school before each online learning day. In addition, students will use their Connected Future devices, a laptop loaner, or personal cell phone to join their classes via Teams. If a student received a Connected Futures and/or Loaner device during a previous school year and did not return the equipment to the school, they will use this device for the online learning days. If a student is new to the district, has lost or broken their device, or does not have access to their own computer or the internet, the student’s school will communicate options for checking out a technology loaner for online learning days. This will require a parent or guardian’s signature. Please keep in mind that the loaner program is for online learning days only.  Each student is expected to check the laptop out from school each Thursday before the online learning day and return the device to the school the next school day. The district will provide internet access at no cost to students.

School partners supporting students during the school day may continue doing so on these online learning days. All after-school programming will be canceled but all sporting events will continue as scheduled on these days.

Vitti thanked the school district for their ongoing commitment despite challenges.

“Returning to in-person learning has not been easy but it has been in the best interest of students. 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,” Vitti said. “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.”

The school district’s move is similar one made earlier by Southfield Public Schools, which made their change to virtual learning on Fridays due to staffing shortages, Chalkbeat reported.

Machion Jackson, assistant superintendent of operations, told board members during a recent committee meeting that the district is continuing to adhere to “regular” and “deep” cleaning practices that use federally recognized disinfectants versus household products as well as using federal COVID money to offer overtime pay for custodial staff, Chalkbeat reported.

“Our custodians go through all the occupied classrooms, as well as offices, common areas throughout the day,” Jackson said.

Terrence Martin, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, told Chalkbeat that the union negotiated with DPSCD to provide virtual days once a week in December.

“With the increase in cases around the state, we have to start somewhere,” Martin said.

“We’ll try this for the month of December to see if it makes a difference and if not we’ll have to try something else.”