Return to the classroom for some AAPS students pushed back on May

ANN ARBOR, MI – Rising COVID-19 cases locally and in the state of Michigan will drive back returns to in-person teaching for students who stayed distance learning at Ann Arbor Public Schools.

Superintendent Jeanice Swift recommended that return to face-to-face learning be suspended until May 3 for grades 4 through 12 during the AAPS Education Committee meeting on Wednesday April 14.

While third grade students returned to the classroom for the first time this year this week, the district had already postponed the return for fourth and fifth grade students to April 19, before that date for another two weeks during the Wednesday meeting was moved.

Under the previously approved plan, preschoolers, young fives, and kindergarten students returned to the classroom on March 25 in a hybrid learning format along with small groups of students in grades 6 through 12. First and second grade students returned in hybrid format on Monday April 5 after the spring break. These students stay in hybrid learning.

Washtenaw County currently has 355 cases per 1 million, placing the county in Level E, the highest risk category on the MI Safe Start Map, and having a “high” transmission within the CDC risk levels for running schools.

The district reported that four students among approximately 1,200 on-campus hybrid learning were infectious with COVID-19 in elementary school, along with four staff members and three student-athletes on April 14. Swift noted that the number does not represent the total number of cases in the district, which is much more difficult to quantify because these cases are not counted in the district’s dashboard.

Despite a desire not to abandon students hoping to return to the classroom, Swift and the board members felt that the decision to take a break to bring more students back made the most sense for the district Maintain a consistent stance on health and safety.

“What we are almost saying with this recommendation is that we are focused on ending the year strong, which is now best tackled with the break,” said Swift. “… Our fear of involving additional students at a time of higher diffusion would only lead to more disappointment if we are unable to maintain (personal learning).”

Board member Rebecca Lazarus said she did not want to risk exposing more children to the possibility of the spread, given the number of cases in the community currently higher than at any point during the pandemic.

“There will be a lot of disappointed children and families because we have to postpone the return for the fourth and fifth graders who have already been disappointed,” she said. “But our community distribution is just too high.”

Jessica Kelly, vice president of the board of directors, said AAPS continues to face different challenges than neighboring districts that have been able to provide more face-to-face tuition during the year.

“We will now do what is right for our students with our data,” said Kelly.

Trustee Ernesto Querijero advocated the return of all students to distance learning as it spread across the community, noting that few students in hybrid learning while others stay away have exacerbated inequality within the district.

“I can’t think of any other place in the civilized world struggling with COVID than here in the state of Michigan,” he said. “We once took such a strong stance on security when the numbers were at certain levels, and now we’re seeing those numbers approaching again.

The district wants to gain a better understanding of the spread within the district and is trying to do this by testing its students and families.

AAPS will conduct free COVID-19 testing at Pioneer High School on Sunday April 18 from 12:00 PM to 6:00 PM to encourage all AAPS employees and families to be tested before returning to class.

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