January 29, 2021 - Superintendent's Update
Hello AAPS Students and Parents, Staff and Community,
We make the path by walking together.
As an AAPS team and community, we have come a long way in this historic COVID crisis, and we continue to make progress in working together to serve our students through this pandemic.
We have committed to the priority of health and safety throughout this extraordinary health crisis. The health and safety of our staff and students, parents and community remain paramount; this commitment will not change.
While we are not yet out of this COVID time, there exist signs of progress as well as some areas of concern. As circumstances continue to evolve and change rapidly, I am sharing this update on our current situation directly with you today.
Our Current COVID Pandemic Reality
It is important to be aware of our current COVID pandemic reality. Specifically, a few information points highlight our understanding of the current Ann Arbor COVID reality.
- Cases & Positivity Rate
According to the MI Safe Start Map, though we have realized solid progress over recent weeks in achieving improved case and positivity rates, at this time, Washtenaw County remains at a County Risk Calculation ‘Level E,’ the highest risk level.
The state of Michigan also remains at Level E, the highest risk level.
- AAPS Antigen Testing Program
We have been approved for participation in the Michigan antigen testing program, and members of our team have completed training. Beginning a week prior to opening for the hybrid in-school learning option, AAPS staff will have the opportunity to be COVID tested weekly (participation is voluntary). While this state antigen testing program is not yet offered for students (we are advocating for that for our students), we appreciate the opportunity to participate in the AAPS. We know that at-school testing, a tool used in districts across the country and worldwide, is a critical component of improving a level of overall confidence in health and safety at school buildings during this COVID time.
- COVID Vaccination Process
We are most grateful for the development of COVID vaccines that will surely support our progress through this pandemic.
We clearly understand and support the Governor’s goal, shared on January 8th, of reopening PK12 schools. We appreciate the Governor’s stated commitment to prioritize the vaccination of school personnel in Phase 1B to support the goal of a confident reopening of Michigan school buildings. However, the current reality is that the declaration of beginning vaccination processes for teachers on January 11th has not yet occurred in Washtenaw County due to the lack of supply of the vaccine. State and federal officials continue to work to secure enough vaccines for everyone in phases 1A and 1B to obtain the first doses.
We appreciate the prioritization of self-contained classroom staff (a very small proportion of the overall AAPS team) in the vaccination process and supported the Washtenaw County Health Department (WCHD) in a vaccine clinic in this effort just yesterday. While some individual AAPS teachers may have been able to get vaccinated at locations across Michigan, at this time, no systemic teacher vaccinations have been administered in Washtenaw County due to the lack of vaccine supply. As Gov. Whitmer stated just this week, “The fact of the matter is, we don’t yet have the kind of supply that we need.”
However, there is encouraging news coming from the Biden administration. They announced earlier this week a deal with Pfizer and Moderna to secure an additional 200 million vaccine doses. As NPR reports, “On Tuesday, President Biden announced a plan to boost the COVID-19 vaccine supply by 20% over the next three weeks and by hundreds of millions of doses by summer.”
- COVID-19 Variant
We are aware of the confirmation of several cases of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7., first discovered in the U.K., in Ann Arbor and understand this development poses genuine risks. We will continue to work in close partnership with the WCHD and the MDHHS and will be responsive to emerging guidance regarding COVID variants.
While many facts remain unconfirmed regarding COVID variants, it is confirmed that the B.1.1.7. variant is more contagious. While Michigan seems to be heading in the right direction on infection rates overall, and we hope this progress continues, experts caution that progress could be in jeopardy if variants take hold. Preventing a setback will mean extra vigilance for all of us.
At the request of the MDHHS and WCHD, we offered the use of the Pioneer HS property for a large community COVID-19 testing event, coordinated in response to the emerging COVID variant in Ann Arbor last Sunday, January 24th.
The continued Level E, ‘High Risk’ COVID status of Washtenaw County, the slower vaccination process alongside the confirmation of the variant in Ann Arbor, are concerns that directly inform our next steps during this 20-21 school year.
We will continue to hold the health and safety of our staff and students as our top priority. This commitment will not change.
At this time, we will continue in a virtual learning instructional model in the AAPS as we have since last fall. We will remain in virtual instructional delivery and continue to enhance and extend virtual support for our students and families. There is not an announcement of a specific date for transition to open in-school hybrid learning at this current time; we will continue to vigilantly monitor this unfolding COVID situation each week.
We all understand that while virtual learning is not our first choice, our work is not limited to the physical walls of any classroom or school; our AAPS team has done a remarkable job, in partnership with our parents and community, of connecting, caring, extending compassion and ensuring learning, and we will continue this work in service to our students and in support of each other.
As we shared most recently on January 13th, we will continue preparation for the addition of a hybrid learning option for those students/parents who may choose this option when it is safe to do so.
During these weeks of February, we will hold ‘two things’ together in our work: ensuring strong virtual instruction and outreach for students continue and preparing and informing our parents and community about the next phase of an in-school hybrid learning option. Specific dates and times for community meetings will be shared next week.
Please remember that just because we are clarifying our plan for the addition of a hybrid in-school option, this does not mean there is a ‘rush’ to return. The time will come for beginning a safe transition, and we will have our students and parents fully informed and our detailed plan in place, so when it is safe to return, we will be ready.
The February planning work will remain focused on Stages 1, 2 and 3 of the return process. As we shared in our previous message, the stages of return are as follows:
- Students with high-level specialized learning needs (self-contained classrooms) at all levels who choose a hybrid, in-school learning option,
- PK, Y5 and K students who choose a hybrid, in-school learning option, and
- Small groups of identified middle and high school students to receive in-school learning center support.
Grades 1 and 2
Grades 3 through 5
During February, we will also convene community and elementary school-specific informational meetings for parents. We will ensure AAPS parents have the full information they need about the hybrid learning option in order to make their most informed choice - to remain in virtual learning or choose an in-school hybrid learning option.
We will review and refine additional details of the work that has been ongoing among AAPS teams since last summer, including:
- an introduction to the hybrid learning option,
- a definition of cohort groups,
- a sample elementary hybrid school day, and
- an overview of safety protocols in a COVID informed classroom/school.
As we have shared consistently since last summer, while we do not know firm dates in advance - it is impossible to reliably predict all the nuances of COVID and the reopening of school buildings - however, we have established the steps of an anticipated timeline. When the time approaches for a change in the AAPS instructional delivery model, three steps will occur:
- We will signal that we are near or have achieved an acceptable level for considering a return, sharing with our AAPS team, parents and community. COVID levels will be monitored for 14 days of stabilization.
- During this time, the superintendent will bring a recommendation, the Board of Education will vote on the commencement of the stage(s) of return and, when approved,
- AAPS will confirm in a written message to staff, students, parents and community, providing two weeks’ notice of a confirmed start date.
We have set the course for the remainder of this 20-21 school year, the AAPS process is in place, and we will continue in communication over the coming weeks. We can all surely attest that this has been among the most challenging of years for everyone involved. We appreciate the hard work and patience, commitment and sacrifice of our students and staff, parents and community. While certainly, every family situation is unique and not all will agree on any timeline, we will continue to move step-by-step through this COVID school year process in support of our students.
Under the watchful eye of our professional educators, school teams, parents and community, our amazing students will continue to grow and learn, developing resilience and skills, critical thinking and innovation through this COVID time.
We have committed to the priority of health and safety throughout this global pandemic. The health and safety of our staff and students, parents and community remain paramount, and this commitment will not change.
Jeanice K. Swift
Superintendent of Schools
Ann Arbor Public Schools