Wednesday, February 24, 2021
We have come a long way in this COVID global pandemic in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. As we approach the one-year anniversary of this public health crisis, we all understand the significant need to have our students and staff return to in-school learning.
We have a commitment and responsibility to maintain the priority of health and safety for our students, staff and community as we continue to monitor this ongoing situation. As we make this next step to transition to adding an in-school hybrid learning option, this commitment to health and safety will not change.
The Ann Arbor Public Schools has invested thousands of hours over the previous 11 months in a good faith effort to develop the path for our students and staff to safely return to the classroom. The question has always been a matter of when, and not if, that would happen.
We recognize that this COVID time has presented a significant challenge for all. Our children need in-school learning opportunities, our staff and parents, who have worked so valiantly and made so many sacrifices, need to return to in-school learning and our community desires to see a restoration of in-school learning for our public schools. All in the Ann Arbor community look forward to the day when we can safely welcome our students back to in-school learning.
Equity in a Return to In-school Learning
As we cross the tragic milestone of the passing of 500,000 individuals of COVID in our country, we also understand the significant pain many in our community and our country have suffered. While we are all a part of this tragic, collective loss, we also understand that this pandemic has been experienced very differently by some individuals and families, beginning with all those who have personally lost family members. In addition, COVID has inordinately impacted Black and Brown students and families, those affected by poverty and those without access to quality healthcare, among many others.
As reported in a recent New York Times article by Pam Belluck, health and science writer, we understand that “69% of reported cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children have affected Latino or Black young people, which experts believe stems from socioeconomic and other factors that have disproportionately exposed those communities to the virus.”
It is critical to confirm a commitment to establish a process to ensure that equity remains at the heart of this return to in-school learning process. We will convene conversations with students, staff, parents and community. We will establish and share with our community a set of action steps to ensure we continue to see and hear the voices of all those who have been impacted at more significant levels during this time, and in doing so, we will live our value of equity during this return to school.
We hear and understand that our students and families fall along a wide continuum of preferences, needs and family situations regarding COVID and returning to school. COVID school is not a one-size-fits-all.
As we shared on January 13th, we have set our direction toward a transition to offering an in-school hybrid learning option for all students and families who choose this option. We will also continue to offer virtual learning throughout this 20-21 school year for those families that prefer to continue learning virtually.
In addition to a decline in community spread of COVID, two steps have been key and critical to our ability to move forward today, and we have made significant progress over recent days in these efforts.
Teacher Vaccinations and Rapid Testing in Schools
We continue to advocate at all levels to expedite teacher vaccinations. We are pleased to share that significant progress has been made over recent days in our months-long effort to achieve both rapid antigen testing and ensuring school personnel have access to vaccines. Particular focus will be given to AAPS staff connected to Stage 1 of the in-school hybrid option. We will also be implementing rapid testing in schools, and this will allow an important additional layer of reassurance and protection for students, staff, and parents.
COVID-19 Health Update
Safety and Health Progress
Today, we have shared the application of recently released CDC guidelines on reopening, applying the local data. We have reviewed the alignment of the AAPS mitigation strategies, the Super Six, that include individual prevention efforts such as masking, environmental measures such as improved ventilation systems and cleaning, as well as public health protocols that everyone coming to school in person commits to following.
The Super Six is also being introduced in more detail to elementary families during the Parent and Community Information Sessions. We are poised for the addition of the hybrid, in-school learning option, and the Super Six will guide us during this spring as well as into the future.
Spring 2021 - A hybrid, in-school learning option
Stage 1: March 25th and 26th
- PK, Y5 and Kinder students who choose a hybrid, in-school learning model,
- Students with high-level specialized learning needs (self-contained classrooms) at all levels, and
- Phasing in some small groups of middle and high school students most in need of in-school learning support may also begin at this time.
Stage 2: April 5th
- 1st & 2nd grade who choose a hybrid, in-school learning model,
Stage 3: April 12th
- Grades 3rd through 5th who choose a hybrid, in-school learning model.
Stage 4: begin phased return week of April 12th
- Phased return of grades 6-12 students
(please note this is also a spring PSAT/SAT assessment week)
This addition of the in-school hybrid option on this calendar provides for a full quarter of the year with the opportunity for every AAPS student and family who chooses to participate in in-school hybrid learning.
This spring hybrid experience will set a strong foundation for this COVID year, for the summer ahead and for Fall 2021.
As we have shared, the transition to in-school learning timelines will depend on:
- the progress of the COVID vaccination process for school personnel,
- ongoing levels of school/district COVID infections and community spread, and
- other emergent issues that could impact a healthy and safe return to in-school learning.
Summer and Fall 2021
As we move forward from this COVID year and winter gives way to spring, summer and Fall 2021, we understand that COVID will still be with us.
With confidence, we are looking forward to a robust Summer Learning 2021 program, and more details will be shared in March.
We also look forward to a strong launch in the AAPS for Fall 2021; it is important to note that a full five days per week of instruction for students and staff has always been our intention and goal, though COVID gives us no guarantees.
Given what we know today, we anticipate and are intent on a full return to school in the AAPS this fall. We will also continue to offer, as a separate delivery, a full virtual education experience in the AAPS for those students and families who may choose this option during the 2021-2022 school year.
We will remain in close communication regarding more specific plans for fall, look forward to a robust time of back-to-school and know that our work together over this spring and summer will set a strong foundation for a solid start to Fall 2021.
Next Steps: Upcoming Parent and Community Information Sessions
It is critical that our parents have an opportunity to understand the two options, hybrid in-school learning and virtual learning, so that they can make informed decisions. We look forward to sharing important information as we prepare for a transition to offer an in-school hybrid option for our AAPS elementary students.
Over this coming week, elementary principals will be hosting school community information sessions for elementary parents. The parent survey will be shared with elementary parents at the end of this week. The parent survey will ask parents to choose to select the in-school hybrid option or to remain in virtual learning for this spring.
More specific information will be shared regarding the phased transition for grade 6-12 students beginning in March.
As we have committed from the beginning of the year, for those who choose to remain in virtual learning, the AAPS will continue to offer a fully virtual learning experience for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year.
We will continue to carry forward our critical mission of serving our AAPS students and families with a quality educational experience. During this time, we remain committed to our core values of teaching and learning and the priority of the health and safety of our students and staff, as they are our cornerstone. We will work together to move our students, staff, parents, families and community beyond the pain of this COVID time. We will continue as the strong Ann Arbor Public Schools we are.
I am committed to working with you to reestablish that trust and confidence in our schools and ask all in our community to join together for the sake of our children. We have set the details of our plan; we are ready to move forward.
As parents and staff, community and leaders, it is time for us to come together and invest our full energies into a shared commitment to our children. Together, let us point our North Star to our children. Our coming together will enable restoration, renewal, and healing for our children and staff, families and our beloved Ann Arbor community.
I am committed to working with all to reestablish that trust and confidence in each other and in our schools. I ask all in our community to join together in this effort for the sake of our children. These Ann Arbor Public Schools are our community schools, and these are our children. Let us move forward together.
Jeanice K. Swift
Superintendent of Schools