Detroit Public Schools releases 2020-21 reopening plan, includes small classes, face masks for students

It's going to be a first day of school unlike any other when classes return to Detroit's school district in September for the 2020-21 school year. Classrooms will be limited to 20 students at any one time, those riding the bus will need to sit apart, virtual alternatives will be offered in every session, and more electives might be offered to reduce class size.

These, among a slew of other options, were packed into a 23-page reopening draft released by the Detroit Public Schools Community District on their website

Aided by the state's Return to Learning advisory counsel and a multitude of other guiding resources from the federal and state government, the district is opting for a phase-in approach that begins in June and extends over four stages. Despite the unpredictability of COVID-19 over the summer and fall, the district says it intends on starting class Sept. 8. However, staff will defer to parents in deciding if their students will attend class in person or online.

"Our current situation may seem unpredictable; however, we believe that there are some likely realities that our staff, students, and families can anticipate. Some of those realities help our plans to reopen, while others may make it more challenging and constrain our efforts," read the report.

Students will be required to wear face masks when they're in school, which will be provided by the district upon arrival. 

Contingency plans have been set up at each phase to plan for if a positive case of COVID-19 is confirmed within the district. In later phases when more students are attending class in-person, temporary building closures may go into effect to allow for maximum sanitizing and keeping those who might have been exposed at home.

RELATED: Business, nonprofit leaders investing $23M to get tablets, internet access to Detroit students

Prior to the plan's release, almost 4,000 parents were surveyed about how they would envision a return to school. Around 48% said they would be interested in sending their students back to school in-person over the summer as long as appropriate precautions were in place, while 61% said they were prepared to send their kids back to school in September. 

A strong majority of parents said they would take advantage of the virtual summer school option if it was provided and the student had Internet access, while 75% said they would be comfortable with a mix of in-person and virtual instruction in the fall.


The option of virtual learning became feasible following a $23 million donation from business leaders around the city meant to bridge the digital divide by giving an estimated 51,000 students tablets.

Both students and parents will have the opportunity to provide feedback on the plan during public zoom sessions on Wednesday. Click here for more information.

Below is the outline of the plan:

Phase 1 (Present Day)

With schools currently closed and only essential staff entering buildings to work, all employees are wearing face coverings and avoiding contact with others. Buildings are disinfected daily. 

The district says it is monitoring the local spread of COVID-19 cases among families and staff, ensuring coordination between health officials and members of the community. 

Phase 2 (Mid-June to July)

Mimicking some of its reopening plans off of the state's MI Safe Start plan, which currently places Michigan in the "Improving" stage, DPSCD will allow in-person work, telecommuting available to staff to ensure work can be done safely and in small groups. Gatherings of 10 people or less are currently allowed following Whitmer's lift of her stay home order.

Any employee coming to work must have tested negative for COVID-19 and will be required to undergo training for the risk factors associated with the coronavirus. Students can expect that training to be expanded to include them at later stages of the district's reopening. Parents may also be offered the training through the Parent Academy

For staff coming to work, they'll need to confirm they aren't experiencing any symptoms related to the virus, take their temperature, sanitize their hands throughout the day, and are required to wear a face-covering in areas where maintaining six feet of distance is not possible. 

The district will also use staggered work hours from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. or 10 a.m to 6 p.m. Staff can expect alternating work schedules where workers designated to staff group A will be in the office for one week while staff group B will telecommute, then both will alternate the next week.

The buildings themselves will begin to open in a "limited fashion for critical operations" like food distribution, personal belonging pickup, preparing for summer learning, and completing building upgrades and improvements. 

For those participating in extracurricular activities and sports, small groups will be allowed where social distancing is possible. Any team meetings or workouts will need to be conducted at safe distances and outdoors where possible. Coaches will be required to test for COVID-19 ahead of time.

Phase 3 (July and August)

In-person teaching will be allowed for the first time in July, but class size will be limited to 15 students. Class starts and ends will be staggered to limit interactions between students in hallways and common areas. Teachers will also be adjusting seating and desks to allow for a six-food distance between students. 

All meals will be consumed in classrooms, not in lunchrooms. There will also be signage posted on floors and walls that help guide people to remain distanced from each other. 

The district wants to approach its curriculum differently, depending on if students are in grades K-8 or are in high school. Younger students will have courses taught through a combination of in-person and virtual learning, as well as independent learning. High School students will focus on credit recovery in order to make up for any lost classes or hours missed by the school year ending early in April. School will go from July 13 to Aug. 6. 

For K-8 learning, classes will be taught at one of 18 different sites and focus on Math, English, and Language Arts and will go from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. High School credit recovery will take place at one of five different sites and be done primarily online. In-person support will be offered if needed. Because the learning for older students is virtual, the 8:30 a.m to 12:30 p.m. is more flexible.

Any students traveling by bus will need to accommodate for as much social distancing as can be maintained. Those riding will need to sit apart from each other and only one student will be allowed to a seat. Face coverings will also be required when entering the bus.

Phase 4 (August and September)

With an expectation that positive COVID-19 cases will be at "an absolute low level," "both K-12 and higher education live instruction should resume..." The district is planning on opening schools with in-person learning and virtual options available Tuesday, Sept. 8. The district is planning for multiple scenarios that include limits of 20 students or less per classroom. 

The two primary scenarios differ in the daily schedule of students. The first offers regular live, daily in-person instruction that offers frequent cases of learning in small gatherings, recess breaks, and more art and music to reduce class size. The second option will alternate between weeks and have students attend class virtually when they're not in-person.

Both options will focus on maximizing physical distancing between students by arranging desks appropriately. However, the regular in-person option will make more use of electives.