Detroit students can return to classrooms in just over a week, but Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is uneasy.
He worries about the city's low vaccination rates among parents and school-age youngsters, a concern Detroit Free Press columnist Nancy Kaffer amplifies Friday:
Just 46% of Detroit residents are vaccinated, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services vaccine dashboard. For Detroiters 5 to 19, it's 21%.
"Even before the surge this year, 20% of our students have been quarantined because they're not vaccinated ... that completely disrupts their learning," Vitti said this month. "... We will inevitably be removing students from school, which is not sustainable for their learning, it's not sustainable for parents, and teachers can't be held accountable if students are not there.
"With more students who are [testing] positive, more students that are quarantining, it just continues to put this huge strain on the system."
The district leader suggests a step he knows requires political nerve -- a student vaccine mandate from the city or state health department.
Vitti is asking state or local officials to add the Covid-19 vaccine to the list of inoculations students must receive to attend public school. But it's far from clear that anyone with the authority to impose a student vaccine mandate is willing. ...
"We have to do everything we can to keep students in school now, and forever, with employees feeling safe," he says. "The only way I can do that is a student vaccine mandate."
Detroit teachers already have a vaccination deadline of Feb. 18, set last month by the school board as their employer. A student requirement is tricker, Kaffer notes:
No Michigan school district has required students to receive the vaccine, and no public health agency seems eager to impose such a requirement. ...
"There seems to be reluctance from the state health department to say, 'Yeah, go ahead and do it.' And the Detroit Health Department does not want to do it," Vitti said. "So I'm at a point of saying, 'Well, if you don't want to own that decision, then just get out of the way, and let me and the board ... move forward.' "