Detroit Public Schools is reopening its doors to students today, serving as not just a test case for the state but also the country in restarting a district's education and teaching lessons. After months of preparations, at least 4,000 parents have signed up for the voluntary summer school, with more than half choosing the face-to-face option. Hundreds of the district's teachers also applied to fill one of the 180 spots to teach in person.
Michigan's first foray into schooling during a pandemic will bring its own buzz of protests and demonstrations as several activists with the district have spoken out against Detroit Public School reopening. Protesters had even congregated outside the DPSCD's bus garage Monday morning and the group By Any Means Necessary says it intends on filing a lawsuit on Monday to keep the schools closed until there's a vaccine.
A microcosm of the growing debate around when should students return to the classroom, arguments being made for and against reopening districts went national last week when the president threatened to withhold funds from schools that refused to reopen for the fall semester. But while many agree that reopening is an important step in returning to normalcy amid the pandemic, it's the 'how' that is driving much of the debate. And the impossible job of planning for the state of the pandemic two months from now isn't making things any easier.
In fact, it's anyone's guess where Michigan's pandemic will be a week from now. The state's been on the upswing of new cases for about a month since it bottomed out in mid-June. Health officials reported at least 600 new cases of COVID-19 three times last week, which isn't something that's been graphed since at least May. While very little has been closed in response to the uptick, the governor has mandated new mask rules for everyone out-and-about (more on that in a bit).
Detroit Public Schools is the first district in the state to dip its toes into the in-person and remote learning combination. Summer school will take place in two formats, depending on the grade students are in. For K-8, classes will be made up of 15 students per in-person class and 25 students per virtual classroom. Utilizing 18 different facilities, staff will be required to test negative for COVID-19 within 14 days of class starting. Large groups won't be allowed and students will arrive at staggered times to ensure as little exposure between individuals. High school students will primarily stick to virtual learning for recovering credits lost by a school year cut short earlier in 2020.
But even with precautions from the school and validation from the thousands that have signed up, many aren't pleased with reopening.
“What (Superintendent) Vitti is doing, what Mayor Duggan is doing, and what Governor Whitmer is allowing for Detroit Public Schools to conduct a new Tuskegee experiment to use Detroit public school students, black and Latino students for her immunity experiment. That is not acceptable,” said Benjamin Royal, a DPSCD teacher.
Royal also said any teacher who signed up for in-person learning "has betrayed the students of Detroit."
The group that will be out picketing Monday has also said it plans to sue the district to keep it closed. “We’re going to be filing a lawsuit with the court of claims,” said Attorney Monica Smith with By Any Means Necessary. “It’s our position that the students should not be attending school until there is a vaccine.”
That may not be the opinion of most, however. Experts like those from the American Academy of Pediatrics believe keeping students from the classroom would hinder their growth in both social and educational contexts. Many parents aiming a return to work are also in favor of districts reopening. Additionally, the many social services and meals that the district offers are in demand more than ever.
'Mask Up, Michigan!' goes into effect
With cases (and now deaths) spiking in south and west states like Florida and Texas, Michigan health officials are looking into a window of what happens if it returns to lockdown level case rates. In response, a statewide mandate was handed down from Whitmer on Friday that orders anyone indoors and in large crowds outdoors to wear a face mask. That rule goes into effect today.
With a growing consensus behind the face mask's effectiveness at curbing the spread of COVID-19, the governor has decided against asking nicely to wear a facial covering, and mandating it instead.
“Masks can reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19 by about 70 percent. By wearing masks, we can save lives and protect our family, friends, and neighbors from the spread of COVID-19. And by wearing masks now, we can put our state in a stronger position so our kids can return to school safely in the fall," she said in a statement.
After photos and videos going viral showing masses of people congregating closely over holiday breaks, experts saw little ambiguity that citizens continued ignoring the recommendation.
The order now also includes businesses, requiring them to enforce the face mask rule for anyone entering the perimeter and refusing service if they don't. Several other states including multiple ones in the Midwest have made similar executive orders.
If anyone violates the rule, they're subject to a misdemeanor that includes a $500 fine but will not be jailed.
Detroit Police determine 13-year-old kid died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound
A tragic scene took place over the weekend when a family's 13-year-old son died from a gunshot wound. Magnifying the pain is preliminary information from police that Nazir Jordan died after he allegedly mishandled a weapon when it discharged and struck him.
It's a conclusion his parents are uninterested in entertaining.
“My son don’t play with guns, he would never touch a gun, “said Nazir’s mother Denise Bridges. “He was full of joy and life. He would never kill himself, never.”
While parents weren't home at the time of the shooting, another child that witnessed it said a 16-year-old cousin that was home had brought out the gun from the closet where it was stored and had put a clip into the gun before returning the firearm where they found it.
The gun, which is owned by the family's stepfather had been wrapped up and put away. Shunndean Bridges, Nazir's stepdad said there was only one family member that could have found the gun.
“This supposed to be protection for my family,” Shunndean said of the weapon.
Fox 2 reached out to police to learn if anyone is in custody, Detroit police said their investigation is still in the initial stages and will not confirm what the parents have to say about this tragedy.
With the exception of today, it'll be another hot week. Temperatures will hit 80 degrees on Monday.
COVID-19 deaths take a long-expected turn for the worse
A long-expected upturn in U.S. coronavirus deaths has begun, driven by fatalities in states in the South and West, according to data on the pandemic.
The number of deaths per day from the virus had been falling for months, and even remained down as states like Florida and Texas saw explosions in cases and hospitalizations — and reported daily U.S. infections broke records several times in recent days.
Scientists warned it wouldn't last. A coronavirus death, when it occurs, typically comes several weeks after a person is first infected. And experts predicted states that saw increases in cases and hospitalizations would, at some point, see deaths rise too. Now that's happening.
“It's consistently picking up. And it's picking up at the time you'd expect it to," said William Hanage, a Harvard University infectious diseases researcher.
According to an Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University, the seven-day rolling average for daily reported deaths in the U.S. has increased from 578 two weeks ago to 664 on July 10 — still well below the heights hit in April. Daily reported deaths increased in 27 states over that time period, but the majority of those states are averaging under 15 new deaths per day. A smaller group of states has been driving the nationwide increase in deaths.