AAPS sets target date for reopening high schools


The confirmation of the hybrid process comes after weeks of debate and pressure within the AAPS community.

After weeks of chaotic debate surrounding virtual and in-person school, the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education approved a return-to-school plan at its Wednesday, Feb. 24, meeting. Schools will begin phasing in elementary students on March 25, with high schools slated to begin in-person school on April 12.

The plan would bring students back to school buildings in 4 phases. Stage 1, which would go back on March 25, includes students in self-contained classrooms, preschoolers, and kindergarteners. Phase 2 would go back April 5 and would include first and second graders. Phase 3, would go back April 12 and would include third through fifth graders. Finally, Phase 4, would go in phases starting April 12 and would include middle and high schoolers. Students still will be able to choose to stay fully virtual, if they desire. The district plans to survey families to see how many students plan to return to in person learning. 

The AAPS district had previously established a set of “metrics” that would determine when in-person learning would resume.

School board member Krystle DuPree said the newly adopted plan hits the right level of compromise.

“I think it strikes a middle ground,” she said. “It allows for students to stay home if they don’t feel safe or not feeling confident in the safety measures that they are going to put in place.”

One thing that shifted DuPree’s view was that, after reaching out to different neighborhood community centers around the city that were providing in person support to students, she found that they all had waitlists.

“The waitlist was very long, so that weighed heavily on my decision,” she said. “I thought about, what if this was six years ago before I had the ability to shift employment, where I could stay home for most of my work. How would that impact me then?” 

Porter Malcom, a Pioneer junior, is one student who has struggled with online learning.

“I’ve learned that I don’t do well with online learning,” he said. “I’m very dependent on in-person instruction to succeed in school and the social component helps me not collapse.”

Malcolm, when the district gives the option, will go back in person.

“I trust that the district would put in adequate safety measures to keep students and staff safe,” he said.

Pioneer math teacher Matthew Rice says that personally he is “not a fan” of online school. “I think it’s nearly impossible to have virtual learning be as effective as in person school,” he said.

Despite this he does not feel comfortable going back to school. His main concern is the lack of preparedness and planning from the district.

“There’s no way the district is going to convince me they’re ready,” he said. “I know too much about what hasn’t been done to have faith.” 

This plan from the board came after a week of chaos that started with the board’s Feb. 17 meeting, where Trustee Susan Baskett proposed changing the district’s original reopening plan. The plan, which was altered multiple times throughout the meeting, would have kept all students virtual for the remainder of the year, except for a vaguely defined group of kids with “the greatest needs,” who would return in person by March 22. 

The board passed a motion on a 5-2 vote directing Superintendent Jeanice Swift to look into the logistics, implications, and feasibility of this proposed plan. 

Those supporting the motion felt it was time to make a definitive decision about the rest of the year. “We need to make a decision now, because our year is going out the window,” said board member Rebecca Lazarus at the time.

The district had previously announced a graduated plan for at least K-8 to return. Basket, in suggesting at the Feb. 17 to instead keep most kids virtual for the rest of the year, argued it would keep the greatest number of students safe.

“We have chosen to take a safe route, and by taking the safest route we have pushed out our date because we have been waiting for other things to happen,” Basket said. “What I’m trying to encourage is making sure that we know we’re going to bring some kids in, and the rest of the kids will remain virtual for the end of the school year.”

However, trustees opposing the motion felt the process was rushed, radical, and not thought out well.

“I can’t support it if we’re making a motion that has that kind of radical impact on that many people, sets a date without regard to the metrics that we previously adopted (for return), without even regard to conversation of those metrics that we previously adopted,” said school board member Jessica Kelly. 

Bryan Johnson, President of the board, echoed that sentiment.

“We just had an hour’s worth of discussion about amending the plan and in that whole hour we didn’t discuss this elephant in the room about ending any hopes of hybrid instruction,” he said. 

After the Feb. 17 meeting, there was a wave of community backlash that dramatically changed the course of the board. Following the meeting, there were many outcries throughout the city pushing the district towards a hybrid return model. 

A rally was organized in support of hybrid learning outside of Skyline High School. At the rally, students and parents spoke about struggles with online learning, the lack of direction from the district, and the need to return to hybrid learning.

On top of that, Ann Arbor Mayor Chris Taylor, along with six city council members, sent a letter to the school board. After staying quiet for much of the school year, city leaders, while acknowledging the school board’s expertise in education, said they felt that it was necessary for them to step in.

“Now, we at the City don’t have expertise in school operations. We are not K-12 teachers or doctors. We don’t supervise the more than 3,000 dedicated AAPS staff or understand their varied needs, medical, operational, or otherwise,” said the letter. “Bearing this in mind, and taking the measure of our constituents, we respectfully yet earnestly ask that the district: confirm the Hybrid In-School Learning Plan and establish a target date of return. As cases fall and vaccinations rise, accelerate opportunities for In-School Learning, particularly for young and struggling students. Articulate the intended scope of the September return, now and with clarity. If the science shifts, or a virus variant changes everything, Ann Arbor will understand.”

Along with the Mayor’s letter, other government officials also got involved. Michigan Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) held a town hall surrounding the issue of school reopening. He and other state representatives also helped push the state to get more vaccines to Ann Arbor teachers. 

After much of the fallout from the board meeting, on Tuesday, Feb. 23, one day before the next school board meeting, Swift announced a partnership between the AAPS and Michigan Medicine to vaccinate approximately 1,200 teachers within the week, with a focus on those in Phase 1 of the reopening plan. 

In an announcement sent out to parents and staff, Swift called this a “game-changer for a healthy and safe return to our AAPS school buildings.”

“We have a commitment and responsibility to maintain the priority of health and safety for our students, staff and community as we continue to monitor this ongoing situation,” said Swift. “As we make this next step transition to add an in-school hybrid learning option, this commitment will not change.”