Many metro Detroit schools return to in-person learning this week after pause

Posted at 6:05 AM, Jan 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-31 07:20:45-05

(WXYZ) — After a nearly month-long hiatus, many metro Detroit schools and universities are finally bringing students back into their buildings.

The omicron variant was the main reason for the delay. Education leaders say sky-high infection rates gave them no choice but to shutter schools.

Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti said the return to in-person learning is basically a recovery mission.

He said when school started this year, the district saw an increase in students that were three or more grade levels behind. He said virtual learning was to blame and they were just starting to see an improvement before omicron hit.

More than 50,000 DPSCD students were set to fill the halls on Jan. 3, until it became clear it was nearly impossible to bring them back. Infection rates were at 40%, an all-time high for the city.

"Every single time we've had to close I feel like we are losing as a school system because there are certain children who are not going to get what they need," Vitti said.

In the past, Vitti would literally drive through neighborhoods after a big snowstorm just to see if it was safe enough to open schools. Canceling just one day of class weighs heavy on his conscience.

"That's how seriously I take my responsibility in making a call to have a snow day before the pandemic because I don't need to read a book to know what it's like to call school off and the burden it places on a family," Vitti added.

Reese Schwartz, a student at Oakland University, can attest to that burden. She was in the thick of her second semester at OU when all her classes were switched online.

"I agreed with it but I was sad like I understood why we were doing it but it's just so difficult to go online especially since I have small children," she said.

OU, DPSCD and a number of other schools are going back in person this week. Many of them are rolling out robust COVID-19 protocols and recommendations including testing, N95 masks, and in OU's case, vaccine mandates.

"We really are taking the perspective of we have to go overboard until we get out of the pandemic and into an endemic," Glenn McIntosh, the senior vice president of student affairs at OU said.

"We are really proud of the fact we have one of the highest vaccination rates among our students and staff and that we haven't had any major outbreaks on our campus," Britt Rios-Ellis, the executive director of academic affairs and provost at OU, added.

Vitti said the unfortunate truth is his decisions will affect students long-term.

"We keep kids in school and we continue to try to rebuild those relationships we offer more after school programming, more summer programming, more recovery courses, more enrichment opportunities," he said.

Vitti said he will do everything in his power to keep doors open, even if that means combining classes or putting them in learning centers so they can do virtual schooling together.

Schwartz said getting her college diploma will make it all worth it, but in another life, she'd make different choices.

"You know, you are missing hands-on experience and you are missing that bonding with human beings. It is definitely a difficult time and I wish had done it way before the pandemic," she said.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.