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Detroit Public Schools Show K-12 Leadership

by Terry Denoyer

While it is now more common to see districts in the U.S. releasing formal plans for Fall reopening—through June, most teachers and parents were left with almost no indication of what school will look like in September.

But one district acted quickly in the Spring, engaged its community, and produced a comprehensive reopening plan.

An analysis by the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) released June 29th shows that the 100 districts reviewed were mostly all in the planning stages, while Detroit Public School Community District produced a formal fall reopening plan that includes information about teaching and learning, as well as health and safety.

Detroit's plan states that the district relied on current medical best practices released by the CDC, AFT and other organizations, and that it was also vetted with the school board before the feedback phase with stakeholders.

"The traditional public school system must always overcome obstacles to serve its students and families. A pandemic is no different," says DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, "Our reopening plan empowers parents to make the best decision for their child this fall—face-to-face or online."

The plan outlines a four-phase approach to reopening:

  1. "Present day"
  2. Staff returning to essential in-person work after being tested for COVID-19
  3. Mostly virtual instruction for students with limited reopening of school buildings
  4. Full reopening of school buildings

The plan, officially still a draft, was released for feedback in early June. The district first surveyed parents and teachers, and has recently held virtual feedback sessions with students, parents and staff to gather feedback. Stakeholders are also able to provide feedback via a survey. Based on the information it obtains, DPSCD will release a final plan.

Vitti adds, "We will continue to monitor the COVID infection rate and strictly follow the guidance of the state and local health department to determine if face-to-face instruction continues to be a safe option to students and families. Face-to-face instruction needs to look and feel significantly different than schools looked prior to the pandemic to ensure everyone’s safety, including temperature checks, PPE, and reduced class sizes for social distancing."

While the CRPE database sample isn't statistically representative with only 100 districts, its does include the 30 largest districts in the U.S. as well as smaller rural districts.

According to the report, two other districts had produced plans around health and safety issues only. Most other districts reviewed by CRPE (61 of 100) share that they are in a planning process, with most aiming to release plans in early July. The remaining 36 have not provided information on a planning process.

We echo CRPE authors Bree Dusseault and Georgia Hayward that "how well districts set clear expectations, anticipate and solve problems, and strategically deploy resources will determine whether schools all learning gaps between students to grow wider. School systems have the opportunity to build learning systems that are more equitable than the ones they rapidly pulled together this past spring, but careful planning will be critical.

"We are concerned that school systems are not yet communicating how they will address the negative impact of instruction many students missed during this spring's school closures, but we hope to be able to report more details soon."

Update 8/3/2020: Detroit's latest Reopening Plan (pdf) - also available in other languages.