classroom
The Detroit Public Schools Community District is delaying for one more week the return to in-person instruction after the winter break. (Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat)

The Detroit school district has extended virtual learning by another week, but officials say students and staff should expect to return to in-person instruction on Jan. 31.

This story also appeared in Chalkbeat Detroit

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti announced the plans on the Detroit Public Schools Community District website Wednesday evening and on social media.

High infection rates and low vaccination rates in the city prompted the district to first cancel classes for three days after winter break, then switch to virtual learning. Testing done that first week after break — the week of Jan. 3 — found hundreds of staff members likely would have shown up for classes that week infected with COVID, Vitti told Chalkbeat during a recent interview.

School districts across Michigan and the nation have struggled to keep classrooms open during a COVID surge that has been fueled by the omicron variant. Some Michigan districts that returned from the winter break as scheduled have since had to switch to virtual learning because of staff and student infections. Flint Community Schools announced Wednesday that its return would be delayed “until further notice.”

The Jan. 31 return to in-person learning is a significant date in the district, because it also marks the deadline for students to sign up for mandatory COVID testing in order to learn face to face. Those who don’t turn in consent forms must transfer to the district’s virtual school.

“This is the second-to-last COVID safety strategy that we can implement in order to keep students in schools consistently, Monday through Friday,” Vitti said in that interview.

The last strategy, he said, would be a student vaccine requirement, which he is considering for the next school year.

Teachers in the district must be vaccinated against COVID by Feb. 18 to keep their jobs, thanks to a new policy the Detroit school board approved in December. There are exemptions for medical and religious reasons, as there are for the student COVID testing requirement.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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