Detroit schools begin transitioning back to the classroom

Detroit schools started transitioning back into the classroom Wednesday when the district reopened its learning centers to some of its students and families that need the most help.

It's the first step the district is taking to offering in-class learning to all students. It hopes to have in-person services up and running by early to mid-March.

One of the biggest benchmarks the district was waiting for was a decline in Detroit's test positivity of COVID-19. DPSCD was aiming for less than a 5% test positivity rate - it's currently lower than that.

"Our survey data among families demonstrate a near doubling of the demand for in-person learning since the late fall to 40-50%. We will always use data and science to protect our students and employees in this pandemic," said Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent of Detroit schools.

Detroit Schools reopen learning centers

A release from the school said that reopening the learning centers provides "direct support to DPSCD families who need schools to be open." Students can attend school daily, eat breakfast and lunch, log into online learning instruction, and receive direct support from district personnel.  

The reopening is available at all schools and grade levels.

School-based administrators, clerical staff, paraeducators, educational aides, culture facilitators, and substitute teachers will be at the centers to help students. 

A full reopening won't occur until the seven-day test positivity rate in Detroit falls below 5%. That means teachers will have the option of returning to the classroom. According to data from the health department, it's at 3% - an immaculate decline from much higher rates being recorded last November.

Surveys from the district show more teachers are willing to go back to the classroom. Those that do will receive $750 in hazard pay every quarter they work. 

Employees that do return will have to undergo mandatory testing and be confirmed negative. The district is offering free testing at schools through Henry Ford Hospital and Wayne State University. 

The gap between reopening learning centers and the rest of the district was intended to give the city enough time to reduce its infection rate as well as let teachers get the vaccine, which they are eligible to do so. About 60% of teachers say they plan to get the vaccine. The district won't be mandating it at this time. 

Majority of Michigan schools already open

More than 80% of school districts in Michigan already offer some form of in-person learning, a big increase from January when only 63% of districts offered it.

To open or not to open has become a pressure point between teachers concerned about getting infected and health experts who argue the chance of spread is low in school settings. Federal and state government agencies have tried striking an uneasy balance between the two, but as the year prolongs and the pandemic's severity threat lessens, more people are calling for a return to the classroom. 

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has requested all districts offer some form by the beginning of March. She called the increasing trend of reopening "encouraging."

About 65% of districts offered full in-person learning this month, however, those that do tend to be smaller.