AAPS: Superintendent Jeanice Swift offers update on COVID crisis and next steps

Hello AAPS Parents and Students, Staff and Community,

This update today results from the escalating COVID situation currently occurring in Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County and across Michigan. We take this situation very seriously and continue to monitor the COVID case numbers closely each day in partnership with the Washtenaw County Health Department and other public health experts.

We will continue to hold the health and safety of our students and staff, families and community as our top priority in all the decisions we make, as we have worked to do throughout this COVID pandemic. This priority of health and safety will not change.

COVID rates in Ann Arbor

Since our update last Tuesday, the rapid and significant rise in the level of COVID cases in Washtenaw County continues. Current COVID levels are the highest we have witnessed at any time during this pandemic. The number of new cases, currently at 426.6 per million, places Washtenaw County far into Level E, the highest risk category according to the MI Safe Start Map, and at “High” transmission within the CDC risk levels for operating schools. More contagious variants, the escalation of COVID cases among younger individuals, including those 10-17 years of age in Washtenaw County and increasing pediatric and adult hospitalizations present added concern.

Progress in School Building Reopening

During previous weeks, we have achieved progress with school reopening: students in self-contained classrooms, preschool, Y5, Kinder, 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades are participating in-school hybrid learning, as families choose. Teachers and school teams are working incredibly hard to ensure COVID health and safety protocols are implemented consistently. Teachers, students, school teams & leaders are adapting admirably to the hybrid classroom; there is joy and connection in the return to in-school learning, and quality virtual learning also continues.

As detailed in the current CDC guidance for public schools, schools in areas experiencing ‘rapid or persistent rises’ in COVID-19 case rates or healthcare capacity burden, school leaders may amend reopening of schools or even close schools temporarily until levels of community transmission stabilize.

Next Steps in the AAPS

We will continue the spring reopening of school buildings with the caution this situation demands, implementing the following adjustments in the return to in-school hybrid learning timeline:

  • students in self-contained classrooms, preschool, Y5, Kinder, 1st, 2nd & 3rd may continue in-school hybrid learning, with close and daily monitoring of cases,
  • 4th & 5th grade students who choose hybrid, in-school learning – return May 3rd, and
  • middle and high school students who choose hybrid, in-school learning – return May 3rd.

Note that optional SAT/PSAT testing will occur for secondary students during the week of April 26th, and more specific information will be communicated from your school.

Community Priority: Health and safety in our Ann Arbor

In our schools and across our community, we must ensure we all follow the COVID mitigation strategies that we know well by now. We will continue strictly practicing the wearing of masks, social distancing and personal hand hygiene in our AAPS classrooms and across our schools. Members of our school communities should also be sure to stay home and get tested if they are symptomatic or exposed to a case of COVID-19.

To ensure additional layers of protection in this school reopening process, I am sharing a call to action that we step up our work together as a community in the following priority areas to stabilize, reduce COVID case levels, and preserve the opportunity for our students, staff and families to experience a strong and healthy finish to the 20-21 school year:

We strongly urge students and families to support this effort in the following ways:

  • Obtain COVID testing for all students prior to return to school and consistently during the coming weeks. It is advised that students and families are tested together when possible. Drive-thru testing events will be offered at our schools, and testing is free. The data from testing will be critical to inform all of us as to our progress through this current COVID surge and reduce the number of COVID cases in our schools and community.
  • Every member of our community aged 16 and above should confirm a plan to obtain COVID vaccination at the earliest possible date. Every vaccine we achieve in Ann Arbor contributes to a safer community for our students, many of whom cannot yet receive vaccination, and for all of us.
  • Please exercise caution in any social gatherings with members outside the home family unit.

As we move through this spring, we strongly encourage parents with concerns about returning to in-person school, including families of students who are at increased risk of severe illness, to continue to take advantage of the virtual learning opportunity.

We understand that our AAPS families fall along a wide continuum of comfort, needs and preferences in choosing the best plan for their children during this spring school quarter. These circumstances may change based on COVID developments. Our AAPS spring return to in-school learning plan is designed so ALL parents have the option to choose for their student(s) to remain virtual at any time and for the remainder of the school year.

We appreciate all your work and partnership to support our students as we navigate this COVID school year. We will continue to monitor the evolving COVID situation each day during the coming weeks and remain in close communication with our families, staff and community.