The district joins several other school districts in Michigan shifting to all remote learning due to increases in positive coronavirus cases. cinderellasg/Flickr
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This story also appeared in Chalkbeat Detroit

The Detroit school district is suspending in-person learning and its learning centers until at least January 11 due to an increase of positive COVID-19 cases in the city. The closures are effective beginning Friday.

The district joins several other school districts in Michigan shifting to all remote learning.

“Based on this week’s reporting, the infection rate will reach 6% or higher by Friday. There are no signs that these rising numbers will decrease soon,” superintendent Nikolai Vitti wrote in an email to staff Thursday morning.

“The district reopens after winter break on January 4th. If positivity rates decrease by that point, then it will allow the district and schools time to reorganize for the continuation of in-person learning.”

Full online learning across the district will begin Monday.

Schools will remain open to distribute laptops to families, academic materials, meals, and medical support from nurses. Starting Dec. 1, the district will open 12 technology support sites, where parents can get help with online learning, device repair, and replacement.

“We are listening and making the necessary adjustments to uphold our commitment to provide the best public education option for Detroit’s students and that their opportunity is equitable for every family,” board president Iris Taylor said in a statement.

As of November 11, the district reported 10 new positive cases among students and staff, and a total of 32 students and staff members quarantined. State data show the district has COVID outbreaks at Earhart, Munger and Western International. Schools are considered an outbreak site if local health departments report two or more cases of COVID-19 on school grounds, and if the patients may have shared exposure on school grounds and are from different households. The three outbreaks in the district involve staff.

About 25% of Detroit district students were learning in person. Some spent their school day in learning centers, which were created for students to complete their online classes inside school buildings. The learning centers were staffed by nonteachers.

The health and safety of students and staff inside school buildings had been a top concern in Detroit. Some parents and teachers protested against the decision to resume face-to-face instruction when schools reopened on Sept. 8. The district had made considerable investments in COVID-safety protocols, such as masks, increased cleaning supplies, and the district reduced face-to-face class sizes.

District parent Ebony Graves’ two children were taking face-to-face classes at Schulze Academy of Technology and Arts. Graves said the transition to virtual learning will be challenging, but agrees with the decision.

“It is what it is at this point. Cases are going up. There’s nothing I can do or say. I’m not mad about it. We have to do what we have to do to keep people safe,” she said. “I’m a healthcare worker and I know how crucial it is right now. This is the best solution.”

The activist group By Any Means Necessary had urged the district to shut down in-person learning this fall. BAMN activist and district teacher Ben Royal called the district’s decision a victory for the people of Detroit but said schools should not reopen at all this year.

“The schools just need to remain closed until the pandemic is contained,” Royal said, citing a need for mass testing and a vaccine. “We need a plan to make sure virtual education succeeds. Any talk about returning is just premature. We can’t keep having that conversation.”

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