January 13, 2021 - Transition to Begin In-School Hybrid Learning Option for Students

Ann Arbor Public Schools
Wednesday, January 13, 2021

As an Ann Arbor Public Schools community, we have come a long way in this COVID crisis. While the public health concern continues, the arrival of the COVID vaccine and a potential in-school antigen testing program represent significant progress on the horizon.

At this time, we set our direction toward a transition to offering an in-school hybrid learning option for all students, beginning the transition process in early March. More information about this transition follows, and we will continue to share additional information week-by-week as we move through this process together. 

I want to thank our students and teachers, support staff and leaders, parents and community for the hard work together to support and serve our students and each other through this historic COVID time. Our teachers, leaders and school teams have worked in extraordinary ways to innovate teaching and learning; parents and members of our community have supported us in impressive ways during this year. The many examples of care and connection, compassion and partnership are inspiring and reveal the best of our Ann Arbor community. We are proud of the collaborative work we have been engaged in with our employee groups, teachers, administrators, and all others as we plan together for this transition.  Working together with our administrators and staff, we have prioritized the safety of our students, staff and families. This collaborative work continues.

Ten months in, this historic COVID crisis continues to evolve rapidly; our work to coordinate the effort to safely transition students and staff to hybrid in-school learning is among the greatest challenges the AAPS, and all school districts, will ever face. We are up to the challenges.

Our goal remains to offer the opportunity for students to begin an in-school hybrid learning model as soon as possible in the safest way possible; through this next phase, health and safety will continue as our top priority. We respect that wide differences of opinion exist across the spectrum on issues surrounding the timing of a safe transition for staff and students, and our transition plan allows for parent choice. We understand that it will take all of us focused and working together in our Ann Arbor Public Schools community to support our students, staff, schools and community to ensure a safe and smooth transition during this next phase of the 20-21 school year. 

Transition to in-school learning timelines is subject to adjustment, depending 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.

Family Choice to Begin In-School Hybrid Learning Model

Family COVID pandemic choices are uniquely individual and personal. We understand that without a vaccine yet available for children, many parents will continue to have concerns about an in-school learning option. During the remainder of this 20-21 school year, we will provide families with a choice to continue with virtual learning remotely or a choice to engage in hybrid in-school learning. In both options, students will continue in their 20-21 daily virtual classes under the care of our capable AAPS teachers and staff.  Our goal is to meet the unique and varied needs of students and families during this COVID time. Parents will have the opportunity to choose either of the learning options at the student’s appropriate transition time during spring 2021.

As a reminder, the hybrid learning plan involves the assignment of students to an A or B cohort group. Students attend school two days per week, Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday; Wednesdays will remain a virtual, asynchronous day. 

As we have planned from the beginning in the transition to in-school learning, we will start with students with the greatest needs and the youngest students first, while also keeping in mind the needs for students at all levels to begin to connect for in-person activities as soon as it is safe to do so.

Staged Transition to In-School Learning

A number of steps will occur during the coming weeks, including the local health system’s process to vaccinate large numbers of school personnel, the physical move of teachers, staff and leaders to school buildings and a comprehensive review of final on-site preparations in support of the safe return of students.  

The Ann Arbor Public Schools are targeted to begin the transition for students to hybrid in-school learning, starting with Stage 1 in early March 2021, pending significant progress in vaccination of school personnel and a reduction in the overall level of community COVID infection. 

As we observe the progress noted above, specific dates will be recommended by the Superintendent, approved by the Board of Education, and confirmed with staff and parents, families and community at least two weeks prior to the anticipated return of students at each level for those students and families who choose the in-school hybrid learning option. 

Stage 1, targeted to begin in early March, will include:

  • 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 
  • small groups of middle and high school students most in need of in-school learning support.

Following Stage 1, Stages 2 through 4 will occur at approximately one-week intervals, dependent on significant progress in the school personnel vaccination process, ongoing monitoring of district and community COVID infection numbers and monitoring of any factors that would inhibit a safe and healthy reopening of schools.

Stage 2, targeted to begin one week following Stage 1  

  • will include 1st and 2nd- grade students who choose a hybrid, in-school learning model.

Stage 3, targeted to begin one week following Stage 2 

  • will include 3rd through 5th-grade students who choose a hybrid, in-school learning model.

Stage 4, targeted to begin post-spring break

  • will include the transition of middle and high school students who choose an in-school hybrid learning model.

More precise timelines for the transition of middle and high school students, by grade level, will be shared during February.

Transition to in-school learning timelines are subject to adjustment, depending 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.

More about the COVID vaccination process

The arrival of COVID vaccinations will prove a game-changer, transforming the ability to emerge successfully as an AAPS school district and community from this COVID pandemic.

We are working closely in support of the Washtenaw County Health Department team as they coordinate this significant community vaccination effort. According to recent WCHD updates, we anticipate the vaccination process, including Phase 1B that prioritizes school personnel, to begin in the near future. At this time, it is uncertain when vaccination for educators in Phase 1B will be completed.

It is important to balance the arrival of the vaccine with understanding the immensity of the public health vaccination process. Among those included in the Washtenaw County 1B COVID vaccination phase are approximately 15,000 school personnel within a larger group of 80,000 Washtenaw County residents and workers. The AAPS team, including support personnel, include some 4,100 individuals and represent the largest group among the K12 educators in Washtenaw County. We understand that limited vaccine supply could further lengthen the timing of this process. If staff are able to get vaccinated from another trusted source, we encourage them to do so. Your primary health care provider may be able to advise you of other approved vaccination providers. Please note that there is no COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in children.

In the AAPS, we will offer COVID vaccine information sessions to support teachers and AAPS team members with answers to general questions. AAPS team members with specific personal health-related questions should contact their preferred healthcare provider.

To clarify, local health authorities oversee the vaccination process, following the guidance of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). Our commitment is to continue to work in close collaboration, partnership and support of our excellent community public health team and these critical community public health processes.

We will continue to mobilize available AAPS resources, offering members of our team, locations, etc., in support of this historic public health community vaccination effort.

Next Steps

At this early point, we understand that we will all continue to have many questions. Our commitment is to share updates and information and respond to questions as soon as we have confirmed accurate information. 

As we move through February, we will provide additional information for parents who are interested in the choice of hybrid in-school learning. We will include sharing the COVID safety protocols and processes that will be in place at school, directions for parent responsibility in ensuring required daily student health screening at home, hybrid cohort assignments, weekly schedules, bus transportation, food, nutrition, student health information and more.

Over the coming weeks, in addition to written updates, we will offer general information sessions to share more about what to expect in hybrid in-school learning during spring 2021.  We will also convene grade-level meetings in each school community so that parents can ask questions and hear directly from principals, teachers and school teams about specific next steps in the option for hybrid return to in-school learning.

Clearly, we are not yet out of this COVID time, yet there are signs of progress on the horizon, and in setting our transition in motion to offer an in-school hybrid learning opportunity beginning in March, we chart our course in the AAPS for the remainder of this 20-21 school year.  The remarkable commitment, innovation and creativity of our team that has characterized a long tradition of excellence in the AAPS will continue through this time of transition and beyond this current COVID crisis.

I am confident that we will continue to work together to uphold the AAPS priority of the health and safety of our students, staff, families and community while also achieving our shared priority of a safe and responsible transition to a hybrid in-school learning opportunity for those families who choose this option. As we all participate in this process with the posture of patience, care and support for each other that is characteristic of the best in us, we will emerge on the other side of this pandemic as a stronger, more connected, Ann Arbor community. 

Thank you for your patience, partnership and support as we continue to work our way through this historic COVID time.  

Swift signature

Jeanice K. Swift
Superintendent of Schools