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Ann Arbor Public Schools will wait to set date for return to in-person learning

A classroom.
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Governor Gretchen Whitmer has set a goal of March 1 for every district in the state to offer an in-person learning option. Ann Arbor Public Schools hasn't yet set a date for when it'll offer an in-person learning option.

Superintendent Jeanice Swift expressed that she and the school board were concerned about a number of factors: the new B.1.1.7 variant found in Washtenaw County and Ann Arbor, community transmission rates, and a lack of vaccines available to AAPS staff were among them.

These concerns, Swift says, are enough for her and her administration to put off recommending a specific return date.

"We have set our course. As we have shared since last August, we will follow the steps when we see the data in line. The first of those steps is that I would bring a recommendation to the board for a specific opening day," she says.

The school has a hybrid in-person option planned. It consists of two days a week in-person, one day of asynchronous remote learning, and two days of synchronous remote learning. Students will be phased back into buildings in groups: the first group will be the youngest children, such as prekindergarteners and kindergarteners, as well as students with specialized needs. The next groups will phase in other elementary schoolers by grade. There is no in-person option for middle and high school planned. 

One of the biggest concerns Swift and other school administrators have is the difficulty teachers are having in getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

In a recent survey by Michigan's largest teachers' union, Michigan Education Association, teachers from all across the state said whether they'd received the vaccine. Only 25% of Washtenaw County teachers surveyed had either received or scheduled the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine: the lowest in the state, and significantly lower than the statewide average of 63%.

Swift says there are simply not enough vaccines for all of AAPS staff, even if the demand is there.

"We’re sad to say and sorry to share that the vaccine process has really become kind of a Hunger Games process for our educators," she says. "Even though vaccination of all staff and students and school personnel is not a condition for a return to face to face learning, we do know and respect the value of having our adults vaccinated in the school environment. It will make the in-school environment a safer and more consistent place to learn for everyone involved."

The Washtenaw County Health Department is currently getting around 3,000 doses of the vaccine per week, with 750 of those set aside for school staff. "With 4,000 active AAPS staff and 15,000 in the county, the math does not work currently in our favor," Swift says. 

At a school board meeting Wednesday night, multiple parents expressed concerns about contact sports being allowed to resume before in-person learning. 

Caroline is a third year history major at the University of Michigan. She also works at The Michigan Daily, where she has been a copy editor and an opinion columnist. When she’s not at work, you can find her down at Argo Pond as a coxswain for the Michigan men’s rowing team. Caroline loves swimming, going for walks, being outdoors, cooking, trivia, and spending time with her two-year-old cat, Pepper.
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