Whitmer orders closure of all K-12 schools, City of Ann Arbor implements precautions

Thursday, March 12, 2020 - 7:18pm

The City of Ann Arbor is taking preventative measures because of COVID-19.

The City of Ann Arbor is taking preventative measures because of COVID-19. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect additional City of Ann Arbor changes announced Friday afternoon, including the closure of City Hall to the public until April 5. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered a shutdown of all K-12 schools in Michigan until April 5 in an attempt to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

In a press release Thursday evening, Whitmer said the closure of all public, private and boarding schools is a necessary step to protect Michigan's children, families and overall public health.

“I am working with partners across state government to ensure educators, parents, and students have the support they need during this time, and to ensure our children who rely on school for meals have access to food,” Whitmer said in the press release. “I know this will be a tough time, but we’re doing this to keep the most people we can safe. I urge everyone to make smart choices during this time and to do everything they can to protect themselves and their families.” 

Hours before Whitmer's announcement, Ann Arbor Public Schools closed its schools through April 6 in response to COVID-19, according to a letter from Superintendent Jeanice Swift published Thursday afternoon. Schools will be open for a half-day on Friday.

In her letter, Swift wrote the school system will monitor the situation throughout the closure. She noted AAPS is taking action in alignment with the Washtenaw County Health Department, the City of Ann Arbor, the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, other area Washtenaw school districts and the Michigan Department of Education, but it is a preventative, not reactive, measure — there is no currently known case of COVID-19 in the school system.

“These are sobering days for all of us in confronting the COVID-19 pandemic,” Swift wrote. “We understand that this situation is likely to impact almost every aspect of our lives, and we know we must work together like never before to help each other as individuals, neighbors, and as a community.”

The return date, April 6, is the Monday directly following AAPS’s originally scheduled, week-long spring break.

Swift cited the need to “flatten the curve” in making their decision, a term Michigan Medicine has used to describe the importance of taking preventative action within communities to avoid having large numbers in hospitals.

“During these upcoming two weeks we will be working alongside our excellent teachers, staff, and administrators to ensure learning opportunities will continue in the Ann Arbor Public Schools,” Swift wrote. “Like many other things in our lives, this will look a little different. These plans are still developing, and though they will not be the same as what we enjoy now, students in our classrooms with our teachers, learning will continue in the AAPS.”

She also noted the half-day will be used for students to collect books and personal items and connect with teachers before the extended school closure begins. After-school care and certain spring break programs have also been canceled.

Swift said they will continue to provide meals for students who rely on school meals to eat. Staff will also be compensated for this extended closure, Swift said.

The decision followed Saline Area Schools announcing Wednesday that it will close its school system until April 6. According to a letter published online, Superintendent Scot Graden noted students will not be required to complete coursework remotely

“This is an unprecedented emergency school closure and a public health situation that is rapidly evolving,” Graden wrote.

In line with the AAPS closure, the City of Ann Arbor announced the implementation of additional precautions beginning tomorrow until April 5. 

The Farmers Marker is closing on March 14.

The Farmers Marker is closing on March 14. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

An email sent to community members Thursday evening said all city-permitted events expecting 50 or more attendees are canceled, and events with fewer than 50 attendees must address proper social distancing procedures. The Ann Arbor Farmers Market will close on March 14 and all parks facilities have closed. 

An email on Friday afternoon announced Ann Arbor City Hall will be closed to the public until April 5. According to the email, critical services such as drinking water, waste water, police, fire and emergency operations will not be affected. Curbside trash and recycling pickup will continue as scheduled for now.

City staff will continue to conduct city business during regular business hours through the phone, email or online. Residents can pay for parking tickets and bills, apply for permits and access other city services at www.a2gov.org/services, by calling 734-794-6320 or emailing customerservice@a2gov.org.

Hash Bash, an annual marijuana-focused event held in the Diag in April, has been postponed. The student group usually responsible for organizing the event will not be able to get a permit, as the University of Michigan has banned events with more than 100 people.

City Council meetings will continue to be held, but the city encourages the public to watch the live stream meetings and use comments if they would like to comment on items on the agenda.

In an interview with The Daily, Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor advised Ann Arbor citizens and University of Michigan students to take precautions to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, such as washing their hands and practicing social distances.

“I want Ann Arbor residents and students to both remain calm and vigilant,” Taylor said. “It’s important that people take this seriously, that they take personal responsibility for their own personal hygiene and hygiene as it applies to others.”

Daily News Editor Barbara Collins can be reached at bcolli@umich.edu. Daily News Editor Alex Harring can be reached at harring@umich.edu.