November 17, 2021 - COVID-19 and Related Staffing Concern School Closure
Adjustment for Thanksgiving Week
No School on November 22 and 23
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
Hello AAPS Students and Staff, Parents and Ann Arbor Community,
The health and safety of students and staff will continue as our top priority in the Ann Arbor Public Schools.
We are currently experiencing an alarming increase in staff and student COVID-19 cases as well as related staffing challenges in the AAPS.
As a COVID mitigation step to interrupt transmission and allow sick individuals to recuperate, we will amend the AAPS school schedule for next week, providing Monday and Tuesday, November 22nd and 23rd, as an extension to the traditional Thanksgiving school break.
We take these school closure decisions very seriously. I understand that this week-before notice will pose challenges for some of our families, and I sincerely apologize for this situation. We have worked over previous days to ensure that we had pursued every option available to safely open our schools on these days.
Current COVID Reality
Over the past three weeks, student and staff cases have grown steadily. Unfortunately, since Friday, we’ve seen a spike in cases, especially among adults in the AAPS, both staff and partners/contractors. As in recent weeks, these cases are distributed at numerous buildings across the school district. This increase in AAPS cases impacts every area of district operations: classrooms and schools, transportation, food service and custodial. This situation is a direct reflection of the COVID case surge in our Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County community and across Michigan.
We appreciate the parent, student and staff support for the AAPS Super Six mitigation strategies and are encouraged that many elementary students are now getting vaccinated. However, continued increases in COVID-19 cases across our schools and high levels of community transmission in Ann Arbor directly impact our students and staff directly and the effort to fully staff our schools each day.
Vaccination remains our most effective tool in overcoming this COVID-19 virus; with the MDHHS, we will host another student and family vaccination event next Tuesday, November 23rd, in the AAPS. We also strongly urge staff and everyone in our Ann Arbor community to get their booster shots as soon as possible.
Continuing Staffing Challenges
Unfortunately, we already know that we will continue to experience staffing challenges this fall. We have increased our daily and long-term substitute pay rates twice this fall semester to incentivize a struggling and shallow labor pool. During the Thanksgiving holiday week, we normally experience lower substitute availability for teachers and staff. Accessing substitute teachers to fill in gaps in school staffing is a challenge beyond the other non-holiday weeks of this fall.
Additionally, immediate staffing challenges continue through the remainder of this current week. Please be aware that during this Thursday and Friday, intermittent service gaps with transportation as well as food and nutrition may occur. AAPS Durham transportation team managers continue to help by driving buses, and many drivers are doubling up to assist with additional routes. AAPS Chartwells food and nutrition team has arranged for staff from other parts of their organization to mobilize into our AAPS schools to support us through the remainder of this week. Members of our AAPS team from across the organization are pitching in to ensure our schools are as well-staffed as possible.
We have successfully completed one-third of our 21-22 school year together since our August 30th opening. Closing the district for these two days will place the AAPS at three district closure days out of the 58 days of school over the 12 weeks of this fall. Michigan school districts are allowed six days of school closures each year. We will continue to monitor this situation very closely every day. If needed, we will take appropriate steps as necessary to achieve the statutorily-required full school year for our students and staff during this 2021-2022 school year.
We are encouraged that with the recent availability of vaccines for students 5 to 11 years of age and the high rates of vaccination we are seeing with our 12 to 18-year-old students, combined with a highly-vaccinated AAPS staff, that we will turn the corner and move past this challenging fall and winter season. At this time, however, we also remain concerned with this current COVID surge and the health and safety of our students and staff.
Thank you to our students, teachers, school teams, parents and community for working incredibly hard together and making sacrifices every day to help keep our schools open this fall. We are stronger when we work together, and together, we are making solid progress.
Thank you for your partnership and support as we continue to work through the challenges we face during this school year.
Jeanice K. Swift
Superintendent of Schools
Ann Arbor Public Schools