January 5, 2022 - Community Information Session
Superintendent Update - Community Information Session
Thank you for joining us this evening.
We appreciate all the efforts of our students, teachers and staff, parents and families to successfully begin this January, 2022 in virtual learning today; certainly, this is not our first choice at all. We are proud of the strong beginning with high levels of student attendance 90-91% at Elementary, Middle School and High School across virtual classrooms and schools today. Special thanks to our students and staff, parents and community, for their efforts to make this virtual start successful.
We continue a strong commitment to having our students and staff together for in-school learning this school year, and we are focused on navigating this school year to achieve as many days of in-school learning as possible.
We are in a dramatically improved situation from a year ago with the tools, experience and information to reduce the risk of transmission. A school plan featuring many-layers of protection against transmission of COVID is the best way to keep our students and staff learning together in school. We have implemented and refined many tools that are in place to support in-school learning, including:
- nursing/health team case identification and management support,
- achieved high vaccination rates among students, our AAPS team, and in the community,
- practice universal masking indoors in the AAPS since last fall,
- Implement AAPS ‘Super Six’ mitigation strategies, and improved ventilation across all our schools and district locations, and
- boosters are now available for 16 years and older, and we anticipate boosters becoming available in the very near future.
We have laid a foundation for this 21-22 school year with a successful 71 of 75 days of instruction over the first 16 weeks between August 30th and December 17th. Together, we will overcome these current challenges and we will continue with our in-school learning this school year.
Our Current Situation
However, over recent days we have observed a dramatic rise in the numbers of COVID cases, and specifically, the impact of this escalation on our AAPS staff, and our ability to safely staff our schools for in-person learning.
This week, we have modified the return from winter break plan to transition to virtual for Wednesday - Friday of this week to help mitigate COVID transmission amid this post holiday surge. I appreciate the hard work, sacrifice, and support of our students, teachers and support staff, our parents, families and community. In-school learning is our desired outcome, yet the ability to maintain some continuity of learning during these days as we transition through January is key and critical to our progress through this year.
When we consider the impact of a dramatic rise in cases on our ability to safely staff our schools for in-school learning, it is important to remember that serving our students across our schools is a human-dense enterprise.
Approximately 3,000+ teachers and support staff, nurses, food & nutrition, custodial, transportation, technology, and team members from many other areas team - ALL are integral to successfully operating our schools each day.
Operating our schools includes staffing of approximately 1,200 classrooms across 31 school locations, preparing and serving more than 15,000 meals daily, cleaning 3.5 million square feet of space, and 131 buses transporting students approximately 8,500 miles to and from school each day.
Our Current Challenge
Currently, we understand from our experience over this previous week and from public health experts, that the significant uptick in the number of COVID cases represented in this January surge - unlike anything we have seen previously during this pandemic - is likely to extend at least over the coming 3-4 weeks, and creates conditions where we will struggle, despite our best efforts, to staff our schools adequately for a safe and secure opening.
This is due to absenteeism resulting from this cascade of COVID cases among staff, mandatory isolation days, and those who are absent due to caring for an immediate family member.
The encouraging news is that vaccination and boosters are our best protection from serious illness and hospitalization, yet we will continue to face a significant disruption caused by the sheer volume of spreading illness, and a related tsunami of absenteeism.
We will continue to hold the priority of having our students and staff learning together in school, and we will use every tool available to us to meet the challenges we face.
Next Steps Moving Forward
We have modified the reentry with a temporary transition to virtual learning from winter break to allow for the assessment of current staff impact, to mitigate the post-holiday surge, and to ensure we are fully scaled to continue with virtual learning when needed in the case of an emergency safety measure due to increased reported positive tests among staff or other concern.
This week, staff COVID cases are many times the number of any prior week we have experienced, and nurses are currently confirming with staff the number of days of isolation and clarifying earliest possible return dates.
We have conducted COVID testing this past Monday, the WCHD will host a testing event tomorrow evening, and we will also offer approximately 1,000 tests for staff on this Friday where staff may be tested before or after their teaching day.
Based on the outcome of this AAPS staff testing data, an update will be provided xby Friday as to when we can transition our schools from virtual to in-school learning. This decision will be based directly on our ability to safely staff our schools for safe in-school operations.
Moving forward, when an emergency safety measure is necessary, we will temporarily transition to virtual learning; these transition to virtual decisions will be made on a classroom, grade level, and school by school basis, based directly on:
- the ability to successfully staff schools for safe operation,
- high numbers of positive COVID-19 cases within a given classroom or school, and
- guidance by Washtenaw County Health department in response to a COVID outbreak situation.
We understand and share the concern around last minute notice of a transition to virtual learning - these notices are very hard on our families and staff, on everyone. We are doing everything in our power, monitoring staff illness and attendance around the clock, to determine the viability of schools as early in the process as possible, yet these situations can at times change rapidly within a few minutes in some situations. We are always going to do everything we can to achieve in-school learning.
The most important ways that our students and staff, families and community can help to support this critical effort to keep our schools open is to ensure vaccination and boosters, and to monitor daily for any symptoms and remain home while symptoms persist, regardless of vaccination status.
Jeanice K. Swift
Superintendent of Schools
Ann Arbor Public Schools