COVID Kids: What’s Next for Students Returning to School in the Fall

Detroit parents at a crossroads for return to in-person learning 
by Sherri Kolade

Westside Detroit father David Rudolph is like most parents when it comes to wanting the best for his childespecially when it comes to equipping his student with the tools needed for school this fall.

With COVID-19 variants – including the latest Delta variant – Rudolph, the parent of a Mercy High School sophomore said that while he is concerned about the safety of his daughter, he knows his school has “done everything to keep the kids safe.”

Rudolph, who wears several hats in the academic arena, is also a board member at Detroit Enterprise Academy Charter School (K-8) and a board member of the Michigan Association of Charter Schools (MAPSA), a statewide body of charter school authorizers and management companies.

MAPSA President Daniel L. Quisenberry told the Michigan Chronicle that the association that works with all the charter public schools in Michigan currently does not have a mandate for either masks or vaccinations for public schools.

“It’s being left up to the local school districts to make their own decisions,” he said in a statement. “Schools … are communicating with students, families and staff to determine what is best for their community related to safety and educational protocols.”

Rudolph, who said that he is concerned for the children’s health and safety, is more concerned with their mental well-being, summer learning loss and the interrupted learning process that happened in 2020. “I am an advocate for keeping our kids in school and following the science along the way.”

The proactive parent represents many parents keeping a close eye on their children’s fall semester learning.

With school openings just around the corner for various districts throughout the state, many parents have questions about how their child’s school is handling COVID-19 protocols.

Their concerns are valid with ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions, and despite mask mandates being lifted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently recommended mask-wearing again, even for the vaccinated. School districts like Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) came on board with mask mandates and in-person learning recently, too.

DPSCD announced recently that it successfully reached a reopening of school agreement with the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) reflected in a signed Letter of Agreement (LOA).

The reopening LOA recognizes the need to return all DPSCD teachers and ancillary staff to the classroom and schools for in-person teaching and learning while adhering to updated COVID-19 safety standards. The agreement will continue many of the protocols and systems implemented last year when the DPSCD effectively opened schools before access to the vaccine with a minimum number of outbreaks.

“We are all excited to have our students back in schools and classrooms in the fall. As a district, I am proud that we did everything we could to meet the needs of our employees, students and families during the most difficult times of the pandemic. Everyone did their part to keep each other safe and supported,” said Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent of DPSCD.

“This agreement signals that we are all on the same page to restart our reform efforts that had great momentum before the pandemic. With a much-needed infusion of one-time Federal COVID Relief funding, we will be able to effectively address absenteeism, learning loss, mental health and many of our long-term facility needs.”

DPSCD’s fall 2021-22 reopening plan centers on in-classroom teaching by ensuring that teachers are back in their classrooms with students, however, there are provisions for a new and separate district-operated Virtual School. The agreement provides additional support for any DFT member who performs work in person and contracts COVID-19 or is asked to quarantine by paid sick leave. In the event a teacher is asked to quarantine and is asymptomatic, instruction will continue remotely to ensure continuity of student learning.

The safety guidelines include:

COVID-19 student and employee training.

Mandatory weekly COVID-19 testing for non-vaccinated staff.

Daily symptom and temperature checks for students and staff.

Sanitizing wipes and sprays, face shields, gowns and gloves will be given to teachers and staff.

Contracted nurse on duty at each school.

Deep cleaning, masks and social distance seating on school buses.

Access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

On Saturday, Aug. 28, DPSCD will host a Back-to-School Expo, which will be held at three school locations. For more information, visit detroitk12.org or call (313) 240-4377.

Dr. Bishara J. Freij, chief, Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Beaumont Children’s Hospital, told the Michigan Chronicle that while there remains a risk for children to attend school in person because of COVID-19, in-person learning benefits are “critical for them.”

“There are ways to protect your children from getting COVID-19,” he said. “First, you and anyone eligible in your family (ages 12 or older) should get vaccinated. You owe it to yourself and to your family to reduce the risk of infection and disease, especially since the means to prevent illness are readily available and free to you.”

He added that while most children do not develop the severe disease after COVID-19 infection, some do and end up in pediatric intensive care units and others may suffer from so-called long COVID.

“Rarely, some children die. None of this needs to happen. Much of it is in your hands,” he said, adding that more variants will continue to emerge with new Greek letter names as long as the virus is allowed to hang around, infecting people and “replicating freely.”

“Variants cannot emerge if the virus does not infect people and multiply. Some variants will be more transmissible and/or dangerous, others may be weaker,” he said.

News reports around the country have shown young people developing myocarditis, or heart inflammation, after taking the COVID-19 vaccine. Freij said that Beaumont has treated several of these cases in children.

“Most develop this after the second vaccine dose, and for some reason, it is mostly in boys,” he said. “However, I can assure people that everyone recovered quickly and did well. Some got better with no treatment, and others just needed ibuprofen.”

Freij said that no vaccine is 100% effective or without some adverse effects.

It is all about balancing risks and benefits. Here, the benefits very easily tip the scales in favor of administering the vaccines,” Freij said.

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