89.1 WEMU

Ann Arbor Public School Parents Advocating For Some Type Of In-Person Teaching During Pandemic

Nov 30, 2020

Data risk
Credit Ann Arbor Reasonable Return / a2reasonablereturn.org

The Ann Arbor public school district has been online only, offering a "virtual school day" since the school year began due to the coronavirus pandemic.  A group of parents calling themselves "Ann Arbor Reasonable Return" was formed to advocate for some type of in-person classroom teaching for some students.

Lisa Barry talks with one group member, Lilia Cortina, about their concerns and hopes for restoring some in person learning for students who are struggling learning online at home.


Not everyone in the Ann Arbor public school district is pleased with the remote learning plan they’ve been following since the beginning of the school year.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, all teaching and learning in the Ann Arbor public school district so far this year has been online or virtual.

Ann Arbor Reasonable Return advisory board member Lilia Cortina
Credit University of Michigan Department of Psychology / lsa.umich.edu

That prompted a group of parents to form what they’re calling “Ann Arbor Reasonable Return,” advocating for some in-person education despite the ongoing health crisis.  Group member Lilia Cortina says they are aware of the risks in-person classes would mean to possibly getting the virus, but she says they are other risks that come with school closures.

Risks including depression, anxiety, substance use and abuse, child abuse, and suicide attempts.

She said local mental health professionals are seeing an increase in “families in crisis,” and more kids are experiencing psychiatric problems because they are not going to school.  She says even if some students are doing well academically at home, they're missing out on the important social aspect of school, which is important for a sense of emotional health and well-being. 

Cortina says the group is not advocating that all Ann Arbor public school students be forced back in the classroom all at once.  But she says students, such as younger children, children with certain disabilities, and groups that can’t learn in a remote interface, would benefit meeting in person.

When asked for a response to the group's concerns, Ann Arbor Public School officials responded with the following:

I appreciate the work of the Ann Arbor Reasonable Return group to promote an informed and reasonable return of our AAPS students to in-school learning; ensuring that our AAPS students have a reasonable return to school is a fundamental and critical priority and goal we share.

I want to respond to the press release dated November 12, 2020 wherein it is stated that emails reveal that "AAPS draft metrics for 'Return to School' were 'unachievable.'

There are several areas of the message that warrant further clarification.

WCHD & AAPS Metrics

First, the reference to the WCHD deeming AAPS metrics to be unachievable is an incomplete assessment of the situation. I have copied the full email exchange from September 24, 2020 below, and you can clearly see that we made adjustments to the AAPS metrics in keeping with recommendation of the WCHD, moving the upper end of the cases per million metric from the original 20 cases to 40 cases per million.  Also, we further explained the trend metric in the notes of the dashboard.  You can see the response at 4:59pm, "Thank you, and we have already made adjustments that address his (Dr. Juan Marques) areas of concern. It's very helpful to have confirmation on our approach from the WCHD."

The AAPS Metrics were discussed openly throughout the September 11th Public Planning Committee of the Board (AAPS metrics was the one agenda item), during the September 16th Regular Meeting of the Board as well as during the September 30th Regular Meeting of the Board and amended AAPS Dashboard Metrics were approved at the September 30th meeting.

During all three of these public meetings, extensive public commentary, input and feedback from members of the community was heard, noted and valued.  In addition, we received numerous emails to the Board and Superintendent sharing input on the metrics, and during this time, two key metrics were amended, the cases per 100,000 and the cases per million.  The upper range of the cases per 100,000 was moved from 5 to 9 and the upper range of cases per million was moved from 20 to 40. 

All of the meeting videos and presentations are publicly available currently at https://www.a2schools.org/Page/16217 and available for reviewing the full discussion of the multi-week process of clarifying and establishing AAPS COVID metrics.

Our work and partnership with the Washtenaw County Health Department involves frequent interactions, regular meetings, and ongoing discussion at several levels of the team.  To conclude that an email exchange represents the breadth of our engagement with our valued WCHD partners is an inaccurate representation.  Members of our AAPS team, including in the areas of nursing and school health team, members of the Superintendent's leadership team as well as the Superintendent, engage in regular and ongoing collaboration and discussion.

In addition, the WCHD team engages in regular meetings of the Washtenaw Superintendents and in Ann Arbor community leader meetings with members of the UofM, City, and Governor's team.  Discussions and regular engagement across all these groups involve all aspects of the COVID public health crisis including analyzing levels of community spread and setting metrics to ensure health and safety.

We highly value the expertise, guidance and support of the WCHD team and have worked closely with them during every day of this COVID time.

AAPS as an 'Outlier' in District Virtual Status

The assertion that the AAPS is an outlier in its virtual schooling status is also not a fully accurate statement. Below, you can see the current schooling status of 13 more similarly sized Michigan districts, including the largest Districts in the state (AAPS is the 4th largest) and as you can clearly see, the most common format for learning at this time is virtual. 

From among Washtenaw County districts, Ypsilanti, Lincoln, and Manchester are currently on virtual status, Dexter, Chelsea have some students attending in-school in a hybrid model (2 days per week) as do Milan and Saline.  Whitmore Lake is the only district (approximately 750 students) where most students are attending full-time in-school learning.

Currently, many K12 students in southeast Michigan are learning, as Ann Arbor is, in a virtual school format.

Work with Employee Groups

Certainly, our ongoing work to prepare for in-school learning has at its foundation collaboration with AAPS team members and employee groups, and we have engaged in regular, collaborative and productive work meetings since last March to prepare for a return to school. 

These meetings involve working to set our protocols for health and safety, clarifying processes and procedures for what the school day will look like, how teaching and learning will best occur and the general operation of the school within a Covid-informed approach.

Working across groups and collaborating with members of our team are key and critical processes central to a responsible and safe return to school and serving our students; I am proud of members across our AAPS team who have been heavily engaged in this consistent work to prepare for a return to school.

Process for Return to In-School Learning

The AAPS process for determining a return to in-school learning has been discussed and reiterated at many public meetings, and there is no predetermined plan for keeping students out of school 'until everyone is vaccinated.'  In fact, we have clearly stated the opposite.  The steps, which are detailed in a slide below, are consistently followed with a data review and posting each week, and a notification to the community when the infection metrics are improved, and we can make final preparations for a timely return to school.  

As you suggest, the AAPS Return to School Plan details the phases of return, beginning first with small groups of students with specialized learning needs, those students who are vulnerable and most impacted by virtual instruction, and details beginning with the youngest students, PK - 2nd first.

In addition, during the hybrid phase of the return, many students with the greatest need will receive more in-person learning.  As well, recovery services were offered for students during Summer Learning, 2020 as they will be during Summer Learning, 2021.  Summer Learning 2020 enrollment topped 5,000 students, and we are planning for a large program during this next summer as well.  I do not know of another district that has coordinated a plan such as this one to ensure additional learning and support time for students.

As we have discussed, our AAPS plan for providing additional opportunities for student learning will continue for the foreseeable future; we will be working in the long term on this endeavor.

Certainly, we are all in agreement in planning for a safe, phased return to in-person schooling.

I appreciate your engagement in this process and look forward to working together to ensure our AAPS students and staff are returned to in-school learning just as soon as it is safe to do so.

Sincerely,

Jeanice K. Swift
Superintendent

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu