October 22, 2021 - Superintendent's Update
Friday, October 22, 2021
Hello AAPS Students and Parents, Teachers, Staff and Community,
We have completed eight weeks of school this fall, and though the daily school experience is very different as we practice our COVID mitigation strategies to help keep each other healthy and safe, our students and staff have settled into the daily rhythms of being back in school. To get a quick glimpse into one of our schools, check out 2 minutes at Carpenter Elementary, one in our series sharing insights into the tremendous work going on in our schools this fall.
Positive news includes more information shared this week from Biden administration officials who anticipate vaccines for 5-11 year-olds becoming available in the coming weeks, and have laid out plans for vaccination of this important group of children, largely still in elementary school. Also, booster recommendations for all three available COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. are now updated by the CDC.
These positive developments will contribute to sustaining our schools as healthy places for our students and staff to gather and learn each day throughout this school year.
Summary Highlights of Superintendent Update (2 min read)
For those with limited time, this brief section contains the salient points from the lengthier full-text Superintendent update that follows and can stand alone as the weekly update.
- AAPS continues to work to improve school bus operations. Currently, most of the 102 AAPS transportation routes serviced each morning and afternoon are staffed with drivers and running generally on-schedule; we are making solid progress. Though we are working to reduce the number of morning notices, when absences among drivers and staff occur overnight, we will need to communicate updates on school mornings.
- This week’s COVID-19 Case Dashboard shows 32 new cases in the AAPS.
- On days when the AAPS experiences high rates of absences beyond the levels of substitute staffing, a temporary move to remote learning may be necessary. We will work to give as much notice as possible in these situations.
- The AAPS continues to hire additional staff, both permanent and substitute positions; we invite you to learn more here and consider joining our team. By signing on as a substitute, you can make a positive contribution this year. For teachers, teaching assistant/paraprofessionals, and other substitute positions please contact EDUStaff at 877-974-6338 or online at www.EDUStaff.org.
- The Washtenaw County Health Department is holding a free COVID-19 testing event tomorrow, Saturday, October 23rd, at 555 Towner St. in Ypsilanti, in addition to offering vaccines.
Summary of the Super Update concludes here and full text of the message continues below
Superintendent Update - Full Message
Update on Progress with Fall Challenges: Transportation
Despite our best efforts, some operational processes are not consistently operating at the high-performance level we expect, plan and work for in the AAPS. I apologize for this situation, and we will continue to implement corrections.
Currently, most of the 102 AAPS transportation routes serviced each morning and afternoon are staffed with drivers and running generally on-schedule; we have drivers in training, and are making solid progress.
In the few route situations without drivers assigned, we will continue to combine routes in order to provide service for all eligible students. We have communicated expectations with the students/families impacted by the combined route strategy. As we are able to staff, these few remaining impacted routes will have priority for the assignment of drivers and will return to their regular schedule.
We may still need to combine a few routes on a day-by-day basis depending on the daily driver absences, resulting in some ‘morning of’ interruption. These calls will go out in the early mornings to impacted families, and we will always notify families as early as we possibly can of any changes in the transportation plan for the day.
COVID Health and Safety Update
We will continue to hold the health and safety of our students and staff, families and community as our highest priority. Our students and school teams are consistently following the COVID mitigation steps. Our nurse and school teams manage case identification and contact tracing efforts thoroughly and consistently each day in collaboration with the Washtenaw County Health Department. Our team is also conducting responsive testing in various locations across the district.
COVID-19 Case Update
This week we continue to see high COVID transmission in our Ann Arbor community; unfortunately, we have observed evidence of school transmission in some locations. We also have observed six breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated staff this week, and this is a concern for the health of our staff and students as well as the staffing and operation of our schools. We notify school communities of cases as they are confirmed and also update the AAPS COVID Case Dashboard every Friday.
Our weekly AAPS COVID-19 Case Dashboard, updated today, reports 32 cases involving 13 schools and district locations. The majority of these cases are among students. Our AAPS team remains in close communication with the WCHD about these and all cases in the AAPS.
Implementing a temporary pause on in-school gathering among a class or school community is a next-step mitigation measure to stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure a healthy and safe return to school. We have worked closely with the Washtenaw County Health Department, step by step, through these situations as they arise.
It is more important than ever for students and staff to remain home when experiencing COVID-like symptoms. In the cases we are seeing, vaccinated students and adults continue to be far less impacted by illness. It is clear that our high levels of vaccination in the AAPS provide substantial protection. We appreciate all who have been vaccinated, and we continue to strongly urge all who qualify to obtain a vaccination.
We are now 19 months into this pandemic. We understand the concern with our students and COVID; preschool and elementary schools and middle schools/K8 campuses through 6th grade are places where the majority of individuals - our children - remain unvaccinated. In addition, we understand the associated risks that school staff, parents and families face of transmission.
Emergency Transition to Remote Learning Due to High Staff Absence Numbers
We take any decisions to temporarily transition to remote learning very seriously as we continue to prioritize daily in-school learning in the AAPS. However, when levels of staff illness and absences exceed the number of substitutes available - today 112 teacher positions were unfilled as well as high numbers of absences across many other school positions - this high level of staffing concern prevents the safe opening of schools. In these cases, a temporary transition to remote learning, as occurred today at three schools, will be necessary.
Transition to remote learning is an emergency measure made necessary due to numerous unfilled positions across the district and an inability to fully staff our schools. Taking this step to remote learning allows the AAPS to redeploy substitute personnel to assist with the shortage of staff across all other buildings and stretch the resources to support the remaining schools. To clarify, AAPS team members work very hard to serve our students and yet we understand that at times it will be necessary for almost everyone to access leave time; this is particularly true during this COVID and seasonal illness time. I apologize for the late notice last evening, and we will work to provide as much notice as possible in any future situations that may arise.
In consideration of COVID-19 impact and preparing for more staff absences this year, we have taken steps to build up the guest teacher and support team, including increasing the daily pay rate for substitutes, and we have hired many additional substitutes across positions over previous weeks. In addition, on days of concern, we deploy every resource available, other adults on our team, out to support our schools.
For those who love working with children, the Ann Arbor Public Schools is a wonderful place to work; we invite you to learn more here and consider joining our team. We also invite those who are interested in supporting our efforts this year to please consider signing on as a substitute; in doing so, you offer your talent, energy, and experience in making a definitive and positive contribution to our students and schools. One day per week or even a day per month could make all the difference for our AAPS schools this year. For teachers, teaching assistant/paraprofessionals, and other substitute positions please contact EDUStaff at 877-974-6338 or online at www.EDUStaff.org.
Free COVID-19 Testing Event
The Washtenaw County Health Department is adding rapid antigen testing to its scheduled drive-through COVID-19 vaccination clinic tomorrow, Saturday, October 23rd, from 10 AM to 2 PM at 555 Towner St., Ypsilanti. Individuals testing may wait for 10 minutes for results or request a call with results. Testing is available for those two years of age and older. Symptoms are not required for testing. The WCHD is also holding drive-through vaccination clinics at the same location Tuesday through Friday next week.
I want to share special gratitude for all on our team - our students, teachers, school teams, parents and Ann Arbor community - are all working incredibly hard together, making sacrifices every day to sustain the opening of our schools this Fall; step-by-step, we are making progress.
In the actions and steps we each take every day, we demonstrate our care and commitment to our children, to each other, to our Ann Arbor community and to our shared future. Thank you for your support of the Ann Arbor Public Schools.
Jeanice K. Swift
Superintendent of Schools
Ann Arbor Public Schools