Detroit schools superintendent explains COVID-19 plans, remote learning

Posted at 7:08 PM, Jan 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-04 19:08:47-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Post-holiday COVID-19 testing wrapped up Tuesday for staff in the Detroit Public Schools Community District. Overall results are expected Wednesday.

In the meantime, students are preparing for a temporary move back to virtual learning this Thursday.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, Ph.D., said 80% of district staff are vaccinated and 87% of teachers are vaccinated. This will be mandatory Feb.18. However, it's the city's seven-day COVID-19 infection rate that has him concerned.

"At a 40% infection rate, it would be a nightmare to try and open up schools right now," Vitti told 7 Action News.

He said virtual learning will take place through Jan. 14.

"Virtual school just lacks structure right now. We have substitute teachers. They have teacher shortages," parent Sharon Kelso told 7 Action News. "One day you sign in the class, they may be there. Kids really don't know what's going to happen from day to day."

Kelso's ninth and 11th graders are among the nearly 1% of students who opted to learn virtually since the start of the school year because of the risk of COVID-`19.

She said while she appreciates the effort the district is taking to make sure kids are safe, she believes more can and should be done to improve the quality of remote learning.

"And they need to be able to learn no matter what platform we put them in. So as we're pivoting them back and forth, the most crucial thing to me, are we assessing how much learning we're losing? Are we assessing?" Keslo said.

"Are we really just doing a place card for the kids to have somewhere to sit so they can get fundin? Or are these kids actually benefiting educationally?" she added.

Vitti said, "Parents are frustrated. I think parents understand the decision that we've made and support the decision, but it doesn't mean that they're not frustrated. And I'll tell you, I'm frustrated."

He said his preference is in-person learning since that works best. However, he said this school year, 20% percent of students have already had to quarantine. Vitti said he wants to avoid outbreaks and excessive staff shortages.

"They desperately need Monday through Friday, in-person learning in order to grow academically and civically. We're handcuffed because of low vaccination rates as a city. The school district is going to do its part to make sure that we can provide as much of that in-person learning as possible," Vitti explained.

He said he’s optimistic that the infection rates will go down, but the question is, "how quickly?"

If the rates are still up by the middle of next week, Vitti said virtual learning could be extended another week or two.

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