“I understand the stress.” Ann Arbor Headmistress Addresses Temporary School Closures
ANN ARBOR – Jeanice Swift, superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools, said an unusually high number of staff absences had resulted in the district temporarily closing buildings last week.
On Friday and Monday, four of the district’s 32 schools were closed due to staff shortages. In the case of Friday, Swift said a total of 506 employees were absent, leading the district to declare a day of distance learning for Forsythe Middle School and Huron and Skyline High Schools.
Swift said this was double the number of absences the district typically experiences and COVID containment measures play a role in many cases.
“There is currently a higher level because of the COVID logs,” Swift told A4. “A lot of people in the past had only worked due to seasonal illnesses. In all honesty, they have often done this because they are dedicated professionals. With our COVID logs, now is the time to take the day off if you have respiratory symptoms. Our employees also have children at home, so the same policy applies to our children. “
She said widespread absences affected all positions in the system, not just teachers.
Read: Ann Arbor Public Schools is canceling classes for all students on Monday due to staff shortages
“It is the principal’s responsibility to ensure that schools and classrooms are happy and safe and safe and comfortable places,” she said.
Comparing recent closings to emergency scenarios like power outages or bad weather, she said if the district cannot adequately occupy buildings, it is not safe to be open. Swift said that while the schools were in class, they were addressing staff shortages by merging classrooms and bringing large numbers of students to the library, but that such action is not possible due to current COVID protocols.
Speaking of the ongoing staff shortage, Swift said the district had made strong gains in some areas but very slow progress in others.
AAPS has had a successful hiring surge for bus drivers and is currently around 90% occupied. She said enough drivers are now in training so the district will be at 100% soon, and they hope to hire more replacement drivers in order to have adequate cushion and keep the bus system running smoothly.
Regulatory officials and food and nutrition workers are also “most of the way there,” Swift said.
What the district needs most urgently at the moment are educators.
“We’re not getting childcare applicants like we’d like,” said Swift. “Of all the job categories, this is the one in which we have seen no recovery.”
Speaking of the representations, Swift said the district raised the hourly wages to $ 130 for daily representations and $ 150 for representations that work Mondays and Fridays. The district pays $ 200 per day for alternates who fill long-term positions and are committed to a building.
“Our pool of substitute teachers is well over 600 people,” she said. “It’s bigger than ever, but it’s still not enough. Some subs will work maybe a few days a month. The essence of this work is that people really appreciate that they don’t have to do it every day. “
The district has an alternate onboarding process that includes background checks, fingerprints, and training in the school system that can take a month or more.
Many parents have expressed concern about the closings on social media. One parent told A4 that she was already working at Mott Children’s Hospital on Monday when she received the call that A2STEAM would switch to distance learning for the day. Fortunately, she was able to find a solution for her three children attending school, but if it had happened another day she might have had to take the day off.
When asked if sporadic school closings could become more frequent, Swift said the district will continue its fall 2021 plan to keep schools open.
“I understand the stress and worry that this will become a pattern, but our stance is that our schools are fully open,” she said.
She said the high vaccination rate among 12-15 year olds across the county and the second consecutive week of declining cases in schools are a positive sign and officials are now looking into pending vaccinations between the ages of 5 and 11 against the group COVID as another turning point in the school year.
“I feel like we’re approaching a vastly improved situation every day while we receive our pediatric vaccines,” she said. “Our entire system will be healthier and hopefully our cases will continue to decline.”
Swift said that AAPS is currently working with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to offer vaccinations for ages 5-11 in school buildings, should they be approved in the coming weeks.
“We just know that school will be a great place to get a vaccine,” said Swift. “We cannot announce it yet, but we are doing preparatory work in cooperation with the country.”
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