2020 is not an easy time to be a student or educator at any academic institution, and it’s especially difficult to be a school administrator in Detroit — a city ravaged by COVID-19 in recent months and where health disparities have played out largely along racial lines.
“This has not been easy by any stretch. We’re making the best out of a very difficult situation. Going back to school is a new normal, and people don’t like to hear that, but parents and students need direct educational services.” — Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent
Students in the Detroit Public Schools Community District started summer school last Monday and in the days that have followed, activists have continued to protest the opening of the summer program in Detroit. Some have even been using their bodies to physically block the school buses in the city from going to pick up the students enrolled in summer school. And as of right now, the plan is still to send students into physical classrooms in the Fall.
Listen: Detroit Schools Superintendent on Fall Reopening Plan and Options for Online Learning
Nikolai Vitti, Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent, says that while the district will be offering online learning options for the fall, many parents are also looking for an in-person learning option.
“We serve parents, we serve the community, and we can do that online” Vitti says. “But for a lot of our children, they’re not learning. They’re not growing developmentally without that face-to-face option. This has not been easy by any stretch. We’re making the best out of a very difficult situation. Going back to school is a new normal, and people don’t like to hear that, but parents and students need direct educational services.”
Vitti says the district is working to implement as many safety measures as possible in all of its schools for the fall, including increased signage, providing hand sanitizer and masks for students and teachers, and deep cleaning of all facilities. He also says the plan is following all state guidelines according to the Governor’s return to school road map and all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
“I think people are forgetting that this isn’t something that we are doing randomly. There are safety standards in place, just about every strategy that can be implemented,” he says.
Vitti says that the district is still working out a plan for bringing in teachers for both in person and remote teaching, as well as taking into consideration teachers in higher risk groups, like those over the age of 65. However, he says the district is currently not offering hazard pay to teachers working face-to-face with students.
“Our teachers are being paid for working summer school, but right now now we are not providing extra pay for face-to-face instruction,” Vitti says. However, he says he “wouldn’t be philosophically opposed” to negotiating hazard pay for teachers.
Although many are critical of the district’s plan to reopen, Vitti says it is their duty to provide in person learning options for students.
“We are a traditional public school system that has to serve our children, and that means under every and all situations. If we weren’t legally, safely able to do this, we wouldn’t,” Vitti says.
This article was written by Detroit Today student producer Ali Audet.