Michigan School District Indefinitely Delays Return to In-person Classes, Cites COVID-19 Concerns

By Bill Pan
Bill Pan
Bill Pan
Bill Pan is a reporter for The Epoch Times.
January 20, 2022Updated: January 20, 2022

Starting next week, public school students in Flint, Michigan, will attend classes online from home indefinitely, according to school district officials.

In a Jan. 19 message to students and parents, Flint Community Schools Superintendent Kevelin Jones said the decision was made after discussion with local health officials and based on the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Genesee County and the state of Michigan.

“We have decided to continue with distance learning until further notice to protect the health and wellbeing of our scholars, families, teachers, and staff,” Jones wrote. “This means scholars will continue distance learning next week, starting January 24, following their regular school schedule each day.”

Jones cited Michigan’s pandemic data dashboard, which states that as of Jan. 13, the testing positivity rate for Genesee County is 38.4 percent, with a weekly average of 1,232 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.

“To lower the transmission number, and to keep it low, we must actively continue distance learning until further notice,” Jones wrote.

School districts across Michigan are weighing whether to keep schools open for in-person instruction amid the COVID-19 surge as well as staff shortages. In Detroit, school district officials have extended remote learning for another week, though students and staff are told that they should expect the return of in-person instruction on Jan. 31.

Under Detroit Public Schools Community District’s (DPSCD) latest plan, all students who wish to return to school in person on Jan. 31 must submit a consent form for weekly COVID-19 testing. If parents do not approve testing or fail to complete consent forms before the deadline, their children will be transferred to the district’s virtual learning program.

Even before the pandemic hit the United States, Detroit was already known as one of the cities with the highest rates of chronic absence, which is defined as missing 10 percent or greater of the total number of days enrolled during a school year. The issue of low attendance appeared to worsen when Detroit students came back from winter break for virtual learning.

According to data presented by DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti at a Jan. 11 school board meeting, just 58 percent of the district’s students attended online classes Jan. 7. The numbers slowly improved over the following days, with attendance hitting 76 percent on Jan. 12.

If student attendance falls below 75 percent, which is required by Michigan’s education law, the school district could lose a part of its state funding.

Vitti said at the meeting that if his district continues to see low attendance rates for online classes, any future snow days or emergency closures will be converted into virtual learning days to meet state thresholds.

“The state grants us six days, we have already used up those days,” Vitti said. “This is not something I necessarily want to do, it’s something we have to do.”

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