AAPS Board considers continuation of virtual learning


The Balas adminstration building on Boardwalk Drive.

Update Friday, Jan. 7, 5 p.m.:

Ann Arbor Public Schools announced tonight that all district classes will remain virtual for Monday, Jan. 10. In-person instruction is scheduled to begin the following day, Tuesday, Jan. 11. At the moment, Bach Elementary and Ann Arbor Open are the only schools planned to remain virtual until Tuesday, Jan. 18. 

Along with the anticipated dates of return, Superintendent Jeanice Swift stated that the district is shifting its focus from the prevention of COVID-19 to managing high numbers of cases and outbreak containment, continuing its priority of having school in-person.

Original Article:

At a virtual Ann Arbor Public Schools board meeting Wednesday night, Superintendent Jeanice Swift informed community members that a decision about continuing virtual learning would be announced late this afternoon. 

This meeting followed an announcement of a virtual return to school for the first week after break due to a combination of staffing shortages and rising COVID-19 cases among staff district-wide.

“This surge creates conditions where we will struggle to staff our schools adequately,” Swift said in the meeting. “This has to do with a cascade of COVID cases among staff, it has to do with the number of mandatory days of isolation, and it has to do with those who are absent caring for an immediate family member.” 

Swift said that a decision as to whether in-person instruction will return will be made on Friday, and will be based on teacher COVID test results. 

Swift says district nurses are working with staff to determine the number of COVID-positive teachers and the days of isolation they each have, and that in the future, decisions to move virtual will be made on a “classroom, grade level, or school-by-school basis.”

Brent Richards, chair of Pioneer’s Social Studies department, asked at the meeting whether it would be possible for quarantined teachers to give instruction virtually while students and other staff remained in school.  

I am in favor of any measure that would help get us back in school,” said Richards in an email to the Optimist. District officials have made no decisions on that request.

As for the first day of online school, Swift said that attendance was a little over 90% on Wednesday, but students say they are conflicted over the district’s decision in making a virtual return.

“I’m personally really happy we’re going back to online school,” said Pioneer senior Jenny Sun. “It just feels like I’m taking things at a slower, more relaxed pace after the busyness of online school.”

Echoing this view, senior Aicha Sanogo said, “I’m fine with virtual school for now, but I hope we end up going back to in person at some point since I don’t wanna have to miss out on those traditional senior year events like Prom and Graduation since that would really suck.”

However, some prefer learning in a more personal environment. “I’m fine with either in person or virtual, but I’m leaning more on the side of in person since I miss out on a lot of fun stuff by learning through a computer. It just doesn’t feel like real school and I don’t get to see my friends as much,” said senior Casey Jiang.

Jonah Seinfield, a senior, says that online school has been manageable because it feels “temporary and familiar.”

“I’m eager to get back in the classroom, though,” he added. 

Meanwhile, the district has yet to release its final decision as to whether or not to continue virtual learning into next week. “I heard that AAPS is making their decision on whether to return or not based on the number of staff COVID cases in the district, which doesn’t make much sense to me,” Sun said. ”Shouldn’t they be deciding based on the number of COVID cases from all students, staff, and families? Either way, I get why the decision is being delayed since the AAPS board has to consider a bunch of factors.”

Sanogo agreed on the reason for the delay but cited her worries over the safety of an in-person return. ”At least from what I’ve seen, a lot of people and their families caught COVID over winter break, so my hope is that we stay virtual for the next few weeks,” she said. ”I’m boosted but I’ve heard other people who are boosted are still getting COVID, which is very scary to me.”

In a related development, several Michigan families asked a federal judge Jan. 5 to issue a temporary restraining order on behalf of special education students in Michigan to stop schools from going online. This order was targeted against many school districts across the state, including the AAPS, in an effort to stop districts from ending in-person earning. Families point out services that these students lack in the virtual classroom, such as learning assistants working side-by-side with them.