The students in the elementary classroom spread their arms wide as their teacher explained to them how to keep enough distance between them.
Their arms, Kristin Burnette told her first- and second-grade students, are like airplane wings.
“Show me your airplane. Don’t touch,” the teacher told the students at Harms Elementary School.
Tuesday marked the official start to the 2020-21 school year in Michigan. While some districts and charters had already begun classes weeks earliere, Tuesday was the first day for the 51,000 students who attend the Detroit Public Schools Community District, as well as for students attending more than three dozen other districts in metro Detroit.
Gray clouds and a steady rain greeted students and parents arriving at Harms. So did temperature checks, hand sanitizer, and lessons on social distancing.
For many of the students walking into the building, it was their first time attending classes in-person since March, when the coronavirus pandemic forced school buildings to close and shift to remote instruction.
As Brenda Herrera walked away after dropping off her son, a second-grader, she admitted to being worried.
“I’m a little bit nervous,” Herrera said. “But I know he’s going to be OK.”
Like many of the parents who chose face-to-face instruction for their children, Herrera said she believes her son will do better in a classroom setting, rather than online.
“It’s the best choice for him. He needs reading help,” she said.
Across the state, 86% of the schools began the year with an option for parents that included in-person instruction. In Detroit, about 80% of the parents chose to have their children learn online.
Learning in person meant a soggy wait in line to before students got into the building at Harms.
“It’s raining. It’s cold,” parent Angelia Suppon said after waiting with her two children. The soggy wait was annoying, she said. But she was most concerned that she wasn’t able to enter the building to have a conversation with her son’s teacher
But she was most concerned that she wasn’t able to enter the building to have a conversation with her son’s teacher.
That may be because the district is limiting visitors. Reporters and a photographer from Chalkbeat Detroit and BridgeDetroit underwent testing in the days prior to the first day to comply with the district’s policy for visitors.
Jennifer Johnson sent her daughter, a kindergarten student, back to school in person while keeping her older children at home.
“I’m not as concerned with my little one,” she said, referring to COVID fears. “I’m hoping for the best.”