With just over a month left before school starts for the Ann Arbor Public School district on Sept. 8, the AAPS Board of Education met Wednesday evening to discuss instruction plans for this upcoming school year, particularly with the Reimagine Learning plan.
The board meeting opened up with public commentary, and many AAPS parents and faculty raised concerns with changes to scheduling, resources for student mental health, details on attendance and safety measures.
Jeanice Swift, superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools, began the presentation with an update to the AAPS food distribution program. She detailed the decisions going into the fall semester with an emphasis on understanding the range of challenges students and their families are facing.
“We understand that our students have experienced trauma or have family that have experienced trauma, and we’re going to keep these things in mind as we put together the plan,” Swift said.
An important part of this discussion, Swift added, is considering the impact of the dense college student population returning to Ann Arbor. While Swift emphasized the pride in living in a college town with the University of Michigan, she said it is crucial to consider the reality of potentially inviting over 40,000 students from across the world.
“I want to open with that we love being a university town,” Swift said. “It’s what makes us who we are in Ann Arbor, so I hope no one will misconstrue this next component of the data we have to look at. In our opinion, we are the top college town in the U.S., and yet we also understand that the other side of that right now is that as college students migrate all over the country, they’ll be migrating back to their college towns.”
In addition to lobbying on the state and national levels for reliable testing and timely results, Swift also shared the commitment to providing proper personal protective equipment for all students, faculty and staff. According to Swift, the district’s first order of PPE was just under $1 million and will last around a couple months.
“We want to assure that we have sustained supplies of PPE,” Swift said. “I want to reassure the community (that) there’s no politics here. We have children in our charge and adults who care for them, and the protocol is that they must wear masks. In many cases, they will need face shields.”
Swift then went into the details of the Reimagine Learning plan, which will offer three main learning programs for students in the 2020-21 academic year. The first, A2 Student Link, provides a completely virtual, interactive synchronous learning classroom. The second option, A2 Virtual, will be a completely virtual, but independent and self-paced learning environment. And the third, A2 Classroom Connect, will be an interactive synchronous learning option that starts as virtual and plans to transition into a hybrid model when safe to do so.
Furthermore, the A2 Classroom Connect option will progress in a phase-like manner, starting with virtual learning, moving to a hybrid instruction and eventually reaching full in-person, Swift explained.
“This Connect plus learning network is a community endeavor,” Swift said. “I already have staff members writing (to) me saying, ‘I want to be in one of those, I want to support, I want to help.’ Of course we’ll use folks who have good health and will follow all of their safety and distancing protocols while they’re in their groups, but we’re excited to do this.”
“If our infection rates pull us out of phase four, or to any level that causes us concern, these groups will continue in a virtual setting, and we have many of these groups, right now going on this summer,” Swift said.
The board did not formally vote to pass this plan, but will continue to refine these decisions for fall instruction in future board meetings.
Jenna Bacolor, executive director of AAPS community division, explained the protocols for when members of the AAPS community test positive for COVID-19. According to Bacolor, the district has formed a COVID-19 Rapid Response Team to notify close contacts of those tested positive.
“We have formed a COVID-19 rapid response team, so that we can quickly take action when a positive case has been identified,” Bacolor said. “When we hear from an employee that they have tested positive, the health specialists will interview them, determine who those close contacts were in AAPS school buildings and campuses… and then actually go ahead and notify the close contacts about their exposure and provide them with information about staying home from school or staying home from work.”
In the event that a student, faculty, staff or family member tests positive for COVID-19, Bacolor explained they will be interviewed and then quarantined at home for 14 days. Students can switch over to virtual, Bacolor said, and frequent nurse check-ins will be able to assist during the self-isolation period. These services will only be provided for those on the AAPS school building and campuses.
“If we’re able to keep elementary children in those small groups and not interact with others throughout the day, it’s possible to just quarantine that classroom,” Bacolor said. “We would, of course, be speaking with the health department to get specific guidelines around that, but that is one of our strategies to perhaps not have to close the whole school if we are really keeping kids in their little bubble together.”
The board also discussed the plans for sports, specifically the guidelines released by the Michigan High School Athletic Association earlier on Wednesday. Paul DeAngelis, executive director for high school education, discussed how although practices can begin for a number of sports, they cannot be conducted indoors under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s current executive order, nor can they compete at this time.
“We will make local decisions in the best interest of our student athletes and coaches and what is deemed to be the best measures to be put in place for our student athletes and coaches,” DeAngelis said. “So, even though the MHSAA (Michigan High School Sports Association) has come up with their guidance today, we will begin our planning as early as next week in preparation for what we believe is the safest way to approach fall athletics.”
Another main point of discussion revolved around the distribution of technology and specifically its use during the virtual instruction portion. Swift also spoke to the board about the need for distributing accessible and reliable technology to AAPS students, especially with many plans for synchronous teaching.
“A lot of families had children sharing a device, which worked in the spring because we were asynchronous,” Swift said. “Now that we’re moving into fall, we will be a live classroom for most all of our students, and so we do recommend that every child in the Ann Arbor Public Schools have their own district-issued device.”
Heather Kellstrom, interim executive director of technology, spoke to the board regarding a $4.2 million request for a district-wide purchase of 13,000 Chromebooks, cases and other amenities for students as part of the 2018 Technology Bond Fund. At the end of the meeting, the board approved this request, further supporting the move for virtual learning.
“We’re not trying to burden them. We’ll have to work with the kids to teach them, find a place for your device to sit, make sure it gets charged,” Kellstrom said. “We’ve tried to be mindful of the things (but) we just need to promote the message that we do want the usage of (the electronics). We’ve picked very durable devices that are fast booting, that have a little more spill resistance, (and) we’ve got cases for them.”
To close, Board President Bryan Johnson clarified the ultimate goal of resuming in-person instruction, while staying diligent in keeping the community safe.
“We also understand and acknowledge that in-person education is ideal and that's the goal,” Johnson said. “So we’re hoping that these very early actions that we're taking help to not only provide a safe environment for our students but also help to prevent the spread in the broader community.”
Summer News Editor Kristina Zheng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.