Teachers, students, parents, and administrators all have mixed feelings about the July return to classroom learning.
DETROIT, MI — Before the first day of summer school could officially begin for students, parents were already protesting outside of the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) bus terminal.
DPSCD welcomed some 500 students back to classrooms for in-person instruction on Monday. The class schedules take the coronavirus into account and will be taught for two days online and two days in the classroom each week.
Local parent Theresa Pringle said she thinks in-person attendance for summer school is “a bad idea.”
“I think in-person summer enrollment will show the district that it [in-person classes] won’t work for the fall school year,” Pringle told The ’Gander. “I’m okay with their two days in school and two online for the fall.”
Pringle’s son is a student at Communication and Media Arts High on the city’s West Side. She chose the online option for summer school to avoid the possibility of exposing her son to the virus in the classroom but was unable to log in on the first day of classes.
While Pringle and her son were attempting to log in to virtual summer school, the activist group BAMN (By Any Means Necessary) drew crowds to the West Side bus terminal at Greenfield and Tireman. The group of parents and other concerned citizens claims that transporting children by bus and reopening the schools for in-person learning will result in “dead children.”
DPSCD surveyed children and teachers before choosing to offer the hybrid learning option that allows for both online and in-person instruction. Interested families opted to enroll their students in classroom learning for the summer and teachers volunteered. Even so, there have been mixed feelings about returning to the classroom, according to Detroit Federation of Teachers president Terrence Martin.
“It’s not mandated, but there have been mixed feelings about returning to in-person learning,” Martin told The ’Gander. “Since March we knew that someday we’d have to start thinking about returning to school, and that day has come.”
DPSCD superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti said that the decision to reopen the schools was “hard” but that “this can be done.”
Trina White is a teacher in the district who chose not to teach summer school, but she says Dr. Vitti never pressured teachers to return to the classroom.
“If you chose to go as a student or teacher it was by choice, not forced upon [you], knowing the possible outcome,” she told The ‘Gander. “It had to be a hard decision on both sides, the love for the students and the yearning to learn new things. This is tough!”
Getting to the Classroom
BAMN said it concentrated their protests at a bus terminal rather than district offices to bring attention to the lack of coronavirus preparedness for student transportation.
“They [buses] have no hand sanitizers on board,” Shanta Driver, civil rights attorney and BAMN national chairwoman told the Detroit Free Press. “They were not told of social distance measures. They have no masks themselves and have no masks for students.”
Driver and the BAMN protesters successfully blocked buses from running their Monday routes and transporting summer school students to the classroom.
The group organized another protest at the bus terminal for Tuesday morning.
Planning for the Fall
Gov. Whitmer released a 63-page roadmap for reopening Michigan’s schools for the fall. Her MI Safe Schools plan outlines safe reengagement in classroom learning.
“Getting back to classroom learning and remaining in school buildings will require us to make changes to how school usually looks,” Gov. Whitmer said. “The roadmap outlines a number of safety protocols for schools to implement in each phase of the MI Safe Start plan.”
The plan requires social distancing, hand sanitizer, and coronavirus screenings for all students and staff. It also prohibits school assemblies while permitting certain athletics.
In contrast, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and President Donald Trump are pushing for schools to reopen across the country, with no safety plans or precautions in place.
DeVos is a Michigander appointed by President Donald Trump, who has allocated a large portion of coronavirus relief money to charter schools and private religious institutions instead of public schools.
“Michigan’s public schools will be tasked with not only ensuring 1.5 million students receive the education they deserve this fall, but they will have to monitor and limit COVID-19 exposure among children and our communities,” said Offen. “The federal support and guidance our public schools have received from Secretary DeVos falls woefully short for the unprecedented challenges we’re up against.”
The ‘Gander previously reported that Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is suing the Department of Education in order to give schools more control over education funding from the CARES Act. The funding could help to better protect students and teachers who insist upon classroom learning during the pandemic.
Despite backlash from parents and the public, DPSCD Superintendent Vitti is moving forward with summer school plans and visited several schools on Tuesday.