Will upgraded ventilation systems help draw Detroiters back to classrooms?

The Detroit school district invested heavily in recent months to renovate its ventilation systems in hopes of reducing the spread of COVID-19 in classrooms. The question now is whether the changes will sway wary parents and teachers in a city that has been hit especially hard by the pandemic. Just about everyone in the city is eager for classrooms to reopen. Most students learn best in person. But teachers and parents have largely opted to stay home out of fear of COVID-19. As of last month, as many as a quarter of DPSCD students were learning in person compared with as many as half of all students statewide.

Elevated COVID-19 fears in Detroit are mostly beyond the district’s control. Large numbers of deaths in the city, combined with widespread skepticism about the vaccine, have created a culture of heightened caution around the virus.

But the district is also contending with public mistrust of its roughly 100 school buildings. While many schools across the state and nation are in poor repair, and an estimated 44% lack adequate ventilation systems, the poor condition of Detroit buildings during a lengthy period of state control gave the district’s school buildings a national reputation. While the district has invested in repairs in recent years, many Detroiters remember national headlines, teacher sick-outs, and a federal lawsuit fueled by dilapidated buildings.

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