Weekly Update From Jeanice K. Swift, Superintendent of Schools
I hope that you have enjoyed a safe and healthy winter break. We are sharing an update as we all prepare to welcome the new year and gear up for a strong return to school in January while also experiencing an extraordinary increase in COVID cases across our Ann Arbor community, higher than at any prior time during this pandemic.
The health and safety of our students and staff continue as our top priority. We also continue our focused work to prioritize in-school learning. We are using all the tools we have implemented and refined during this past year to maintain the priority of critical in-school learning for our students across our AAPS classrooms on as many days as possible, even as we face this current winter surge.
The purpose of this communication is to 1) update on plans for returning to learning and school from this winter break, and 2) advise of additional steps we are taking now in the AAPS and steps we are asking our students, staff and families to take in partnership and support of our shared goal of continued, successful in-school learning despite this winter COVID surge.
January Return from Winter Break
In the AAPS, we will open for virtual remote learning on Wednesday, January 5th through Friday, January 7th.
We anticipate a return to in-school learning for students and staff on Monday, January 10, 2022.
We will host a virtual Town Hall to update our AAPS community and respond to questions on Wednesday, January 5th at 6 pm. Zoom information will be shared early next week.
This modification in the schedule for a return from winter break will allow time for critical steps, including closely monitoring AAPS case data and addressing staffing impact, to mitigate concerns exacerbated by the current COVID-19 Omicron surge.
I appreciate your patience and understanding in making these essential adjustments to support the health and safety of our students and staff, families and community.
High COVID case rates in Ann Arbor, an associated increase in student and staff illness and resulting staff absences directly impact every part of our AAPS operations. We are working to understand the impact of staff COVID cases that have occurred during winter break, including those that will emerge over this upcoming weekend, as well as staff members on leave to care for a COVID impacted immediate family member. We will make adjustments to ensure that professional faculty and support staff are in place across all classrooms to support a safe return to school.
Where increased COVID cases impact and prevent a timely return of staff, we are confirming qualified substitutes in classrooms across the district to continue serving students in schools as well as ensure effective and timely operations such as food and nutrition, health support, custodial and transportation services across the district.
In addition, on Monday and Tuesday, school teams and leaders will finalize preparations for a temporary transition to virtual learning beginning on Wednesday, January 5th. Building principals will share more specific level-appropriate information and expectations with parents by Tuesday.
Clarification: COVID Protocols in AAPS Schools
At this current time, COVID school protocols continue as they have prior to winter break.
The implementation of the AAPS Super Six strategies and other AAPS COVID school protocols will continue upon return to school consistent with our practice prior to winter break across all schools and district locations.
Over the past week, the CDC announced changes to isolation and quarantine timelines and other COVID protocol details. However, school districts have been advised to wait for school-specific updated guidance before making any protocol changes. We continue to communicate closely with the Washtenaw County Health Department (WCHD) this week, alongside the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). We will update our AAPS COVID processes as may be appropriate once special guidance for PreK-12 schools is clarified and we have prepared, implemented and communicated any adjustments with our students, staff, parents and community.
Next Steps in the AAPS
This winter surge will require more from all of us. With the additional challenge presented by the Omicron variant, we will need to take additional steps to support the health and safety of our students and staff at school; we are asking for your help in this important effort. Working together has never been more critical to continue in-school learning for our students, staff, families and community.
1) Prioritize COVID-19 vaccination and boosters for everyone eligible.
Among all we can do, we know vaccination continues to provide the best protection against getting COVID-19, spreading it and experiencing severe symptoms or hospitalization.
AAPS has partnered with the MDHHS to offer vaccination clinics for students 5 to 18 years of age and staff for booster shots.
We have requested the State of Michigan to add vaccine clinics for students and staff boosters. We will communicate new clinic dates as soon as they are approved.
We have requested to host additional vaccine clinics for students and staff boosters. We will communicate new clinic dates as soon as they are approved.
Learn more about local vaccination opportunities here or talk with your primary care doctor, pediatrician, pharmacist or the WCHD.
2) Monitor closely for COVID symptoms, isolate if symptoms emerge, and, if possible, consider COVID testing prior to return to in-school learning.
For all students and staff, as has been the case in the past, if recent activities have involved gatherings outside the home family unit, travel or other risk factors, students and staff should monitor for emerging symptoms and, if possible, consider a pre-return to school COVID test. The WCHD shares information here on where to obtain a COVID-19 test.
We understand the need for additional testing resources in our community and through the school district. We have submitted several requests to MDHHS for additional testing support, including rapid antigen tests for families to use at home through the state’s “backpack” program, additional rapid antigen test supplies for in-school use and staffing support for school-based testing. We will provide testing information as we receive more updates in this area.
Responsive and ‘pop-up’ COVID testing – coordinated for classrooms and schools where cases are emerging – will continue across our AAPS schools, dependent on test supplies and staffing capacity to support this ongoing effort.
3) The AAPS COVID Response Team will resume contact tracing on Monday, January 4.
Staff should report cases via the normal protocol, and families should report any student cases who were on a school campus from December 18 – January 2 so that we may continue to closely monitor, respond to and report AAPS COVID cases.
4) Continue universal masking Indoors in the AAPS and consider any needed adjustments to enhance mask effectiveness.
We have consistently practiced universal masking in our AAPS classrooms throughout this school year; mask use has been proven to substantially reduce transmission in school settings.
The CDC continues to recommend that adults and children wear multi-layer masks that completely cover the mouth and nose, fit snugly without any gaps, and have a nose wire to prevent air from leaking out of the top of the mask.
With the concern of increased contagiousness of the Omicron variant, some health authorities are recommending high filtration respirators (see NPR article on this topic here). AAPS is in close communication with the WCHD about any potential changes to PreK-12 in-school masking guidance and is working to procure high filtration masks, in addition to surgical masks already on hand, for use in the AAPS.
5) Organize a back-up plan to support a transition to temporary, remote virtual learning.
To the greatest extent that is safely possible, our AAPS schools will remain open for in-person learning throughout this school year. These decisions will be based on our ability to operate schools safely based on AAPS staff case data.
However, during an emergent COVID situation such as we are currently experiencing, circumstances can change rapidly, sometimes in the space of a few minutes or hours. We will continue to take appropriate steps to support the health and safety of our students and staff, and this includes, when necessary, a temporary shift to remote, virtual learning.
When student and staff illness or related staffing challenges necessitate a transition to virtual learning, we will work to notify students, staff and parents in the affected classroom(s), grade(s) or school(s) as soon as we possibly can.
To preserve as much learning time as possible, students, staff and families should prepare to have a back-up plan in place for the possible temporary transition to virtual learning.
Additional information will be updated to assist families who need assistance with connectivity at home, and food distribution locations will also be shared.
6) Remain home when experiencing symptoms of illness.
The critical guideline to remain home when experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms will continue; anyone developing symptoms while at school will be sent home for recovery
7) Observe amended limits on gatherings in the AAPS.
As Omicron variant cases are anticipated to increase in Michigan, we will review planned activities, events and gatherings and make appropriate modifications to planned activities during and after school where the ability to maintain social distancing is limited. In the AAPS, we will use virtual meeting tools to support and host school and district gatherings, and we will share more detailed information in the near future so expectations are clear for all. Taking necessary steps with district gatherings is one way we prioritize the importance of in-school learning.
Moving Forward in 2022
During the coming days, obtaining vaccinations and boosters for as many individuals as possible and ensuring our diligent practice of COVID-19 health precautions will support the continuance of in-school learning on as many days as possible through this winter.
We understand for some parents and families, the increased risk of COVID transmission associated with the spread of the Omicron variant may prompt consideration of a potential move to an AAPS virtual learning setting. We will share more information over the coming days regarding opportunities for those students and parents who may prefer to learn virtually for this next quarter of the school year.
These are challenging times for all, and I want to share special gratitude for everyone on our AAPS team and across our community. Thank you for your support and partnership in our joint effort to support our students, teachers, staff and leaders as we navigate this time together.
Adjusting the return to the in-school learning timeline will provide an opportunity to take critical steps to ensure we interrupt the post-winter-break surge and return to in-school learning as safely as possible. We appreciate the unified purpose and hard work of everyone in support of our students and staff; we know we are stronger when we work together.
In the actions and steps we each take each day, we demonstrate our care and commitment to our children, to each other, to our Ann Arbor community and to our shared future. Thank you for your support of all our students and of the Ann Arbor Public Schools.
We will remain in close communication as we work through this time.
Jeanice K. Swift
Superintendent of Schools
Ann Arbor Public Schools