Faith Leaders, DPSCD Encourage COVID Vaccinations, School Return  

Reverend Dr. Steve Bland of Liberty Temple Baptist Church, front, speaks before the press and community on COVID-19 vaccines.

Photo courtesy of the Detroit Public Schools Community District

“We’re stronger together … we want our community to be a safe haven. … (We) want to return to school, church … and even (have) families coming together. At this time, we pray misinformation about vaccinations be erased and we breathe free … we do it in your name amen.”

Reverend Dr. Steve Bland of Liberty Temple Baptist Church said a simple and effective prayer that roused the hearts of community members and Black church leaders Thursday, May 27 at his church on Greenfield Road in Detroit.

He prayed the prayer of faith before standing in front of members of the media and community during a press conference spreading the word about the importance of the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) students and staff receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and encouraging in-person learning.

Bland, president of the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and the Vicinity, made the call to action for the return to school by the fall for Detroit’s teachers and students in support of the DPSCD and the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) following a school year of in-person suspensions and resumptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a press release.

Bland, and many other faith leaders who joined him in solidarity that day, stood maskless as a testament to the efficacy of them receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, and their faith in God and science.

“This is an important time,” Bland said of the “key message” of getting the community vaccinated. “All those who stand today, we believe (the) right timing is key. … We believe this is the right time for a safe return.”

Bland made note of how the COVID-19 pandemic revealed disparities in the healthcare system for Black communities and even with a growing digital divide. To combat some of these issues, he said because Black children in urban communities tend to do “fair better” in the classroom they should resume school in person. “We anticipate a home run as we stand together and encourage a safe return because our children deserve the very best,” Bland said, adding a boisterous “Take the shot” and others shouted in unison behind him.

DPSCD’s Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Board of Education, and DFT, among others spoke also during the hour-long event on how restarting in-person learning is optimal.

“The faith-based community has always been with our children,” Vitti said, adding that the school district wants to meet the school community and children where they are. “Today is about announcing all of us coming together …. and doing so with equitable resources.”

Vitti said that a new summer experience (revamped summer school) is in the works for students to catch up on what they might have missed during the pandemic.

Vitti said presently about 7,000 students are in learning centers across the district with about 1,000 students receiving direct in-person learning out of the district’s 50,000 students. About 600 teachers are working in person – a figure that has increased over the last couple of months from 500.

“The rest of the students are learning online,” he said of pre-kindergarten to 12th graders.

Vitti added that the student attendance numbers are down from 10-18% pre-pandemic rates.

“Our students are falling behind,” he said adding that they are needed back in person.

The school district’s fall plan entails hiring more teachers, offering online learning options for students not failing classes or who are chronically absent.

DPSCD parent Sharene Nathan said that her family is a pillar of the community and she has gone into the community encouraging others to receive the vaccine and bring their children back into schools because schools are safe.

“I urge all my parents to lean not on your own understanding as the good book says,” Nathan passionately said. “Lean on what the research says. I myself have been vaccinated. … I’m able to go out in my community and do the work I love doing. … Think about it pray on it but send your child back to school. It is safe and that is where they need to be.”

The Council said DPSCD’s safety mitigation measures such as mandatory mask wearing for students, teachers, and staff; daily symptom and temperature checks; social distancing procedures, deep cleaning protocols, and weekly testing have been indicators of DPSCD’s ongoing pledge to provide a safe in-person learning environment for its students, teachers, and staff, according to a press release. The Council also called upon the community to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, noting DPSCD’s Teens for Vaccines campaign, as well as the work of other Council and community organizations that have held vaccination events.

Using science and data as well as getting input from local and national public health experts and agencies, DPSCD has paused in-person learning options at times this school year when infection rates exceeded DPSCD safety thresholds and access to the vaccine was not widespread. To help families better manage the burdens with full online learning, DPSCD added wraparound services such as the Technology and Family Resource Hubs as well as calling attention to the need for emotional support for students and families through Home Visits and a Mental Health Hotline. Similarly, leaders and members of the faith-based council have provided an array of support services to their followers, to help ease the anxiety and stress of living through the pandemic.

“On behalf of the board, I am proud and very encouraged by the support we received today. As we stand with DFT, our teachers, and families, this is one step closer to getting our students and teachers back in the classroom. We are anxious to get back to our reform work and fulfilling our mission to equip Detroit students with the education they deserve,” said Angelique Peterson-Mayberry, Board President, DPSCD.

Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony, Detroit NAACP Chapter president, added during the event that teaching is one of the “noblest professions” that one can have and it’s vital to get back to it in person.


“Teachers are invaluable — parents are the key to what their children will aspire to be,” Anthony said adding that for many the school is a home away from home and it’s time for things to fall back in place. “We must learn to trust each other. If something is wrong let’s fix it. … Our children deserve our best efforts. We can do this and do it together. After all, our children do matter.”


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