Detroit district asks parents to pick face-to-face or online instruction for their children this fall

The deadline to complete the survey is Aug. 21, but officials are hoping parents will fill it out sooner to better help the district determine how to allocate resources across the system’s roughly 100 schools. (Koby Levin)

Detroit school district officials are urging parents to fill out a survey that will help schools better plan for how many parents want to send their students to school for in-person learning and how many want their children to learn at home.

The survey, and a series of town hall meetings that begin Friday morning, are among the efforts the district is making to hear from parents and others about reopening schools for the 2020-21 school year. These efforts are happening as parents and school employees across Michigan raise questions about the safety of reopening school buildings, as well as the effectiveness of online instruction. 

The deadline to complete the survey is Aug. 21, but officials are hoping parents will fill it out sooner to better help the district determine how to allocate resources across the system’s roughly 100 schools. The district sent the survey to students’ school email address.

“We need to get a preliminary understanding of what parents want, to move forward with a plan to start,” said Chrystal Wilson, spokeswoman for the district. “We anticipate adjustments will need to be made due to parents changing their minds. The plan indicates there will be evaluations performed throughout the school year to make adjustments.”

Wilson said the district and parents also need to be prepared for the possibility Gov. Gretchen Whitmer may bar in-person instruction before the first day of classes because of rising COVID-19 cases.

Parents will be indicating a preference for their children’s learning format on the survey, which is non-binding. If they change their minds, they can submit a new survey, but district officials want the responses in by the Aug. 21 deadline. 

Meanwhile, during the district’s virtual town hall meeting at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is expected to take questions and provide information about the district’s reopening plan, which the school board approved during a contentious meeting in July. 

Friday’s town hall will be streamed on Facebook and the district’s website, or parents can attend via telephone. The district is holding six more town hall meetings in August.

In a spring survey of nearly 4,000 parents, about 61% said they would be prepared to send their children back to school buildings if the necessary safety precautions are taken. Vitti has said he expects demand for in-person learning to increase, in part because online education isn’t effective for all children.

Yet demand for in-person learning could shift if the current battle over in-person summer school is any indication. An activist group hoping to shut down face-to-face summer school classes filed a lawsuit in federal court. As part of a temporary restraining order, students were required to be tested for COVID-19 in order to continue summer classes. Three district students tested positive

Earlier this week, the head of the district’s teachers union, citing the public health risks of COVID-19 to students and staff, threatened that teachers would walk off the job if they felt conditions were unsafe.

The school year is set to begin Sept. 8. Whitmer has said the decision on whether to allow in-person instruction at all will be made shortly before that.

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