The Detroit school district cancels classes Friday amid coronavirus concerns

The Detroit school district announced late Thursday that classes are canceled for students Friday.

The announcement comes hours after the district said it would be cancelling field trips and student assemblies, and barring volunteers from schools to address concerns about the new coronavirus. 

“District office employees will conduct their regular business while considering and preparing for the possible extended closure of schools,” an email from the district said. “At the school level, school personnel should update grades and complete pending paperwork and activities.”

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti addressed the Friday closure in a tweet that portended what’s to come.

“We are considering a defined closure strategy that is best for the long-term health and safety of our employees, students and their families.”

In guidance the district issued earlier Thursday afternoon, school officials said they were re-evaluating keeping buildings open, after announcing earlier that they would not close schools.

“Please know that we share your legitimate and real questions and concerns regarding your safety and health in relation to the virus. At this point, we are following the guidance of federal, state, and city health officials regarding the status of school operations,” wrote Superintendent Nikolai Vitti in Thursday’s statement. “We are re-evaluating our short and long-term strategies regarding the status of schools to ensure everyone’s health and safety.”

Across the nation, more than 1,500 schools had closed or were scheduled to close by late Wednesday. That’s up from 500 three days ago. Education Week is keeping a running tally of schools closing for a variety of coronavirus-related reasons.

Seattle Public Schools, which sits in the U.S. state with the most coronavirus cases, announced Wednesday it would close for two weeks.

In Detroit, the decision to close Friday runs counter to Mayor Mike Duggan’s insistence, during a news conference Thursday afternoon, that schools in the city should remain open.

“There is no medical benefit to close schools at this time,” he said.

Duggan also said he is talking with Vitti to develop a plan to provide hot meals for students. Many Detroit students rely on school lunches for their nutrition needs.

“We are preparing for that possibility,” he said. 

At this time, there are no confirmed cases connected to employees, students, parents, or families in the district, Vitti said. 

Vitti had said that the district is not in the position to transition to virtual instruction. According to 2017 census data, only 67.5% of Detroit households have access to broadband internet, the lowest among 25 U.S. cities. 

Several school districts, including Ann Arbor Public Schools, are shutting down completely for weeks because of concerns about the coronavirus. Schools in several suburban districts, including Rochester, West Bloomfield, Troy, and Clawson are closing temporarily to train staff in the event they need to switch to remote learning. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency after Michigan’s first two COVID-19 cases were confirmed Tuesday. The two patients are from Oakland and Wayne counties.  On Thursday night, the state announced there are 10 new cases.

Below is the Detroit Public Schools Community District’s updated guidance on the coronavirus:

  • All travel in and out of the county and state for employees and students, with the exception of athletic and academic tournaments and championships, are indefinitely suspended and/or cancelled. 
  • International travel for students will continue to be suspended.
  • Spring sports and club activities, practices, and games will continue as planned, but sporting events may only include immediate family, coaches, and school administrators.
  • Student assemblies are suspended.
  • Large-scale parent teacher conferences, and school assemblies and events are suspended at all schools. Individual parent teacher conferences will continue and parents and families can still visit and enter schools. 
  • All volunteers of any kind are suspended from entering schools.
  • Contracted services for teacher training are suspended. Contracted, direct academic and behavior support for students may continue.  
  • Field trips are suspended.
  • Schools should begin to limit the number of students in the cafeteria for lunch and movement in hallways during class changes. Additional guidance will be provided to principals and schools to support this requirement.