December 11, 2020 - Response to Outreach and Superintendent's Update


Response to Outreach and Superintendent's Update
Friday, December 11, 2020

In this Superintendent communication today, I am sharing both a response and an update on our AAPS progress during this 2020-21 COVID school year as well as next steps. We have provided headings and linked documents to serve readers in choosing to read only the summarized version or extend to read in more detail about a topic.

At Wednesday’s Board meeting, I wanted to ensure, given the significant number of comments shared at the outset of the meeting, that I had reviewed the written comments and could organize an appropriate response to address the patterns of the issues raised. I regret that some perceived this approach as a lack of care or concern regarding the remarks shared; this is not at all the case.  The Trustees and I are always grateful for thoughtful input and feedback, and we take seriously the experiences shared by our parents and all stakeholders. The bulk of the statements referred to a recent letter, signed by multiple physicians, regarding the district’s COVID plan. We will address the stated concerns in the paragraphs below.

Community Engagement

Our community members’ engagement in our schools is among the strongest assets of our Ann Arbor community.   We appreciate contributions and thoughtful commentary from our AAPS students, parents, alumni, staff and community members during the Board of Education meetings and, importantly, from all who reach out in many ways; through email and various other regular district connections and community group meetings. 

We understand this continues to be a very challenging time for everyone. We are grateful for the patience, understanding and hard work of our students and teachers, staff and leaders and our parents and community for all the diligent support of our students as we navigate this COVID time.

Returning Students and Staff to In-School Learning

We share a primary goal and a fundamental focus: we want our students, teachers and staff safely learning and growing together in our schools; this remains our priority for this 20-21 school year as we are safely, responsibly and sustainably able to do so.  

No one understands better than our students, parents and educators the academic, social-emotional, mental health and other challenges inherent in virtual learning for many students and families. We understand this is particularly true for our youngest students and those at any age who are among the most vulnerable. We also know that all our students, staff, parents and families have experienced significant impact from this COVID time. We will need to plan for ongoing support and recovery in many areas moving forward over an extended time into the future.  

Members of our AAPS team, including teachers, counselors, social workers, intervention specialists and all team members, are fully mobilized to ensure the ongoing support of our students in every way possible. This support has been in place and will continue virtually. When we are able, we will extend this support into the in-school setting. We recognize that the supports in a virtual environment, however robust, fall short of in-school learning.

Priority Return of Students with Specialized Learning Needs & Youngest Students

We have maintained in the design of our AAPS return plan the commitment to a priority return to in-school learning for our students who experience the greatest challenges in virtual learning; this includes our students with specialized learning needs at all levels and our youngest students. This commitment has not waivered. You may review the full plan for return here. 

Current Decision on Return 

At this current time, considering the exponential increase in COVID infections we are experiencing in Ann Arbor and across Michigan, characterized by high levels of community spread and high positivity rates, an immediate return to in-school learning is not advisable. We base this decision on evidence and in close consultation with the Washtenaw County Health Department. Any statements that the WCHD is not supportive of the AAPS approach are inherently false. We value our partnership and work closely with members of the WCHD team on a daily and weekly basis, and their expert public health guidance informs our decision-making at every step. . I have included significant additional information later in this message to clarify this topic further.

I recognize that many students, parents and families are weary of this pandemic and exhausted with virtual learning. AAPS teachers, staff and school leaders are also carrying a heavy load to serve our students. I know very well that the decision to continue virtual learning for this current time will further exacerbate already existing anger among some. The issue of school reopening during the COVID pandemic is one that has proven deeply divisive in our Ann Arbor community, as is true now in so many communities across the country.

We will continue to monitor the data and update our community consistently according to the process we have shared; this pandemic situation will improve.  We look forward to a day before too long when we can confidently implement our in-school reopening plans, beginning with small groups of students and moving through the transition to in-school learning.

Hopeful Developments and Next Steps

While we are not necessarily waiting on a vaccine to move forward in the AAPS, encouragingly, we have received updated information recently regarding forthcoming vaccination processes. We are grateful that educators will be prioritized in this rollout in phase 1b, following the initial phase 1a focused on healthcare providers and those in long-term care facilities. We are currently just beginning to hear emergent information about anticipated timelines for vaccines for children and will share that information when those plans emerge.

For this moment, we must focus on first things first; our collective priority as a community now is to achieve a reduction in the high level of community spread in Ann Arbor in order to coordinate a safe and responsible return to in-school learning.

While Governor Whitmer has referred to this current time as ‘the worst moment’ so far in this COVID crisis, and Dr. Fauci has recently warned that Americans are facing a critical time, including a potentially dark January, there are also encouraging signs emerging just ahead as we continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, work together to reduce rates of community spread and monitor the progress with COVID vaccines.

We have come over a long, arduous path through this COVID crisis, and we cannot let up now when we have some remaining distance ahead of us. We will continue to work vigorously toward the shared goal of a safe, healthy and sustainable return of our students, teachers and staff to in-school learning; to our vibrant AAPS classrooms. Fundamentally, we share the enduring priority of our children, their growth, learning and development moving forward into the future for them and our Ann Arbor community. 

Though it isn’t possible to get to every detail in one communication, I have responded to the patterns of the most common topics raised from your engagement over recent days. I hope you will peruse the information according to your interests below or review the full AAPS archived 20-21 presentations and documents

Thank you for your continued support for the health and safety of our students and staff and of the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

Sincerely,

Swift signature

Jeanice K. Swift
Superintendent of Schools


More detailed information is available here on these topics: