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Detroit Public Schools Break Ranks on Mask Mandate

By Roz Edward | Michigan Chronicle | Word In Black

(WIB) – One month ago, the Centers for Disease Control announced revised guidelines for mask requirements in public buildings across the country. On Feb. 16, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services dropped its mask recommendations for all schools in the state. On Feb. 18, Wayne County followed suit and removed its recommendation for all schools in the county. But the Detroit Public Schools Community District is keeping the mandate and masks in place, opting for a wait-and-see approach before allowing students, and faculty to remove their masks in Detroit schools.

DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti explained that the district will continue to require students, teachers, and all school employees to wear masks until the threat assessment can be reevaluated. Vitti cited local vaccination rates as the key factor in his decision to keep the recommendation in place for the time being.

“We currently agree with the Detroit Health Department that, due to the city’s lower vaccination rate, our mask removal date will be later than other districts,” Vitti said in a written statement, adding that Detroit will reconsider “between mid-March and mid-April.”

The district’s letter of agreement with the Detroit Federation of Teachers says the district will “abide with the most current legally required” orders, recommendations, and guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s new guidelines recommend that schools mandate masks only when COVID cases and hospitalizations are categorized as high.

Due to the city’s lower vaccination rates our mask removal date will be later than other districts.

DPSCD SUPERINTENDENT NIKOLAI VITTI

In early February, DPSCD announced it was implementing a comprehensive first-of-its-kind in-school immunization program for all 109 public schools serving 49,000 students. “Detroit has a 4% childhood vaccine rate, 10 times less than other surrounding cities. This creates an increased chance of positive cases and outbreaks [of Covid],” Vitti said in an earlier statement.

According to the school superintendent, after all of Detroit’s consenting students have received COVID testing and non-consenting students have been transferred to virtual learning, the District will be in a better position to determine mask-wearing requirements for employees and students. The testing mandate went into effect on Jan. 31, and Vitti reports that nearly 100% of the consenting students have been tested.

“We also want to ensure that the city does not experience another surge after spring break,” Vitti wrote. “It would be difficult to remove the mask requirement and then enforce it once again if a surge occurs near spring break when staff and students are not in school. Once those two obstacles are cleared, we would consider lifting the mask requirement.”

Detroit public school’s spring break will conclude on April 3.

If the Detroit school district lifts its mask mandate, it will be the first time since the pandemic began that masks are optional inside Detroit schools.

Support for this Sacramento OBSERVER article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. WIB is a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media that includes print and digital partners.

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