Too risky to return: Detroit students learn from home until Jan. 15, district says today

January 04, 2022, 10:45 AM

Detroit students won't be in public school classrooms until Jan. 15 at the soonest because Omicron's spread alarms administrators.

Virtual learning restarts Thursday after an extended holiday break and runs through Thursday next week, the district announces Tuesday.

"The city’s seven-day infection rate has now exceeded 40% and continues to climb," posts Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. "We are committed to returning to in-person learning as soon as city infection rates decrease to safer levels. Any return to in person learning with infection rates this high, coupled with current low student and family vaccination rates, will lead to extreme levels of positive cases and quarantining that leads to staff shortages and student absenteeism."

Eligible students can pick up loaned laptops at their schools from noon-4 p.m. Thursday or 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday. They also can get them up 9 a.m.-4 p.m. next Monday and Tuesday.

Teachers can use their classrooms for online lessons if they've tested negative for Covid.

Earlier coverage, Monday:

Omicron brings fresh disruption to at least five Southeast Michigan school districts, as well as to public education in the state capital.

(Photo: DepositPhotos)

Students stay home this week in Detroit, Oak Park, Hamtramck, Ann Arbor and Lansing. In Pontiac, they won't be inside schools until Jan. 18.

The delayed starts for in-person classes come two weeks after President Biden urged superintendents nationwide to reopen after the holiday break. He cited rising vaccination rates, availability of shots for all schoolchildren and federal support for health safety strategies.

"Last year, we thought the only way to keep your children safe was to close our schools," he said at a Covid update in the White House. "Today, we know more and we have more resources to keep those schools open.  ... You can get 5- to 11-year-olds vaccinated — a tool we didn’t have until last month."

Yet Omicron's spread leads some urban systems to extend the two-week holiday recess that ends today in most districts: 

Pontiac has the longest return to virtual learning, with no in-person classes until Jan. 18 at the soonest "due to the significant increase in the number of Covid-19 cases directly impacting the Pontiac community and Oakland County," Superintendent Kelley Williams says.    

♦ Oak Park is shut Monday and resumes virtual classes Tuesday through Friday. "Taking a short-term pause for in-person learning to allow for any potential positive cases to emerge as a result of holiday gatherings and provide daily access to PCR testing for staff, students and family members in our student’s household may decrease the risk of a significant spread in our district community," an online post says.

Ann Arbor's 18,000 students have no lessons until Wednesday, when they'll learn remotely for the rest of the week. "We anticipate a return to in-school learning for students and staff [next] Monday," Superintendent Jeanice Swift posted Friday. The delayed start is because oif "an extraordinary increase in Covid cases across our Ann Arbor community, higher than at any prior time during this pandemic, she added.   

Detroit's superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, closes schools through Wednesday, when the 53,400-student district may resume online instruction. (See our Jan. 1 coverage.) 

Hamtramck Public Schools, with 3,350 students, has online-only classes this week. 

♦ In Lansing, "all teachers and staff will report to their schools/buildings, but students will attend virtually" through Friday, a New Year's Day announcement says. The district serves 10,600 students. 

These moves risk possible parental backlash in "an increasingly intolerant landscape," according to a recent article in Education Week, a nonprofit publication in Bethesda, Md.

In the second year of the pandemic, public pressure to keep K-12 schools open has mounted, based on the advice of public-health experts, and pressure by parents and political leaders, who argue that closing K-12 schools is more likely to hurt children, academically and emotionally, than keeping them open and managing the virus.

For his part, the president said in his Dec. 21 message:

"Today, we don’t have to shut down schools because of a case of Covid-19. Now, if a student tests positive, other students can take the test and stay in the classroom if they’re not infected, rather than closing the whole school or having to quarantine.

"We can keep our K-through-12 schools open, and that’s exactly what we should be doing."

-- Alan Stamm


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