Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent On Education Amid The COVID-19 Public Health Crisis
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that all public and private schools in Michigan will be shut down until early April. Yet, some districts, including Ann Arbor Public Schools, had already made the decision. The Ann Arbor Public Schools' superintendent, Dr. Jeanice Swift, explains the district's plan during the shutdown in a conversation with WEMU's David Fair.
In the Ann Arbor Public Schools, students will be in session for a half day, Friday, March 13th, and AAPS staff will be on duty for a full day, then the district will close with an anticipated return on April 6th, after the end of our scheduled spring break. During this time, we will continue to monitor this unprecedented situation and we remain committed to keeping you updated with any significant information.
You may be wondering about the decision to have a half-day of school tomorrow, so I would like to share the rationale behind this decision. We are taking this step of closure as part of an overall critical community prevention and mitigation strategy - you may have heard the phrase, ‘flattening the curve’ - this is the term Michigan Medicine is using to describe how taking preventive action at the community level can help avoid overwhelming the health care system.
These are unprecedented times, and we take this action today in conjunction with the Washtenaw County Health Department, the City of Ann Arbor, the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, other area Washtenaw school districts, and the Michigan Department of Education, not as a result of a current known case of COVID-19 in our schools.
Preparing for Extended School Closure
Since students will be out of school for a longer break of at least three weeks including our previously scheduled Spring Break, we want to make sure they have a chance to connect with teachers and collect books, materials and personal items they may keep at school and will want over the break. Additionally, time will be devoted tomorrow to surveying students about technology assistance they will need to fully access distance learning.
There will be no after school child care or Rec & Ed activities on Friday afternoon and through the school closure. Unfortunately, Rec & Ed spring break camps must also be canceled.
During these upcoming two weeks we will be working alongside our excellent teachers, staff, and administrators to ensure learning opportunities will continue in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Like many other things in our lives, this will look a little different. These plans are still developing, and though they will not be the same as what we enjoy now, students in our classrooms with our teachers, learning will continue in the AAPS.
We are committed to continuing to provide meals to our students who count on our schools for food each day as well as making devices and expanded wifi available to support all our students in continuing their learning. The specifics of this plan are still coming together, but we know this necessary closure adds stress on families that already are facing hardships, and we are committed to ensure necessary support for our families to get through this time.
In addition, I want to assure ALL of our staff, both full- and part-time, that you will be paid for this time away from school. We will share additional information from Human Resources in the coming days with specifics on this and other matters.
Over the coming days, we will communicate with all our staff and families regarding a transition to distance learning in the AAPS, as well as communicate efforts to safely mobilize food distribution, technology and other critical supports for our most vulnerable students and families.
More About the AAPS Community Mitigation Strategy
The AAPS strategy is one of prevention and mitigation both for our school community and the community at large. We are taking this extraordinary step based on four circumstances the district is facing right now:
- First, we are experiencing numerous situations at school buildings with people who are concerned about their own potential exposure to COVID-19 because of their travel circumstances or other reasons. Our school nurses have been working with many concerned staff and family members each day.
- Our second reason is that Michigan has tested very few people for COVID-19. As of today, the state reports that only 120 people have been approved for testing. We know from our partners at the Washtenaw County Health Department that several local people have tested negative, but we are still concerned that we have a potential for community cases in the near future. If and when those cases emerge, we know that school settings are places where the disease can spread quickly.
- A third critical reason is that in every one of our 32 schools, we have staff and students with underlying chronic conditions that put them at higher risk for severe complications from the COVID-19 virus. It is our responsibility as an educational provider and an employer to reduce the risk for all members of our community, but especially for those with underlying medical conditions.
- Finally, we are grateful that Governor Whitmer released new recommendations yesterday regarding the cancellation of large gatherings. Specifically, she stated that to practice the prevention measure of “social distancing,” gatherings of 100 or more people should be canceled, and further that organizations could use a lower number of people as a guidepost for cancellation. As you know, our schools range in size from about 400 students to just under 2,000. There are many times throughout the day that groups of 100 students may be together, including before school starts as they wait for the door to open, to school lunchtime, to recess time. The recommended social distancing measures are simply not possible to achieve in our schools.
In summary, health experts advise remaining physically removed from public gatherings in order to flatten the curve of disease transmission; school closure is perhaps the single most effective public health intervention. Due to the very nature of the school setting and the close human interaction natural in classrooms, our school activities and events may become an unwitting driver of community spread of the disease within the community.
At this time, we all must do our part. Thank you for partnering with us to fulfill our Ann Arbor Public Schools mission. We are committed to the health and safety of our students and will continue to do our best to create a safe learning environment. Thanks for your continued support.
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