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Ann Arbor Public Schools: Preparations underway for return to in-person learning

Students during break at Skyline High School on Oct. 30, 2018. (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)
Students during break at Skyline High School on Oct. 30, 2018. (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR – In her most recent message to the Ann Arbor Public Schools community, Superintendent Dr. Jeanice Kerr Swift announced on Friday that the school district is focused on returning to in-person learning as soon as possible.

However, she said that reopening the schools is dependent on several key factors in order to return safely.

Her message came hours after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer “strongly encouraged” public schools to reopen by March.

Over the past few months, crews have been actively deep cleaning all 35 school buildings in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocol. Building preparation also includes regular flushing of water systems and testing for legionella bacteria, the replacement of air filters and resetting of air circulation systems, the reconfiguration of campuses in order to ensure safe social distancing and the installation of touchless restroom fixtures.

Swift said AAPS has also acquired enough PPE for its staff to use once in-person learning begins.

According to the announcement, the youngest students and students with the greatest needs will be the first to return to school.

Swift said vaccination rates and regular antigen testing will be key deciding factors on when schools can reopen.

“With the arrival of vaccines and potential in-school testing capacity, we are taking definitive, positive steps in the direction of returning our students to in-school learning for those families who may choose this option,” Swift wrote. “However, we should balance our understanding of this situation that both of these significant efforts are in the very early phases of delivery.”

On Monday morning, Washtenaw County officials urged newly eligible residents to receive the vaccine to exercise patience as it pushes forward with vaccination efforts. Under state guidelines, people 65 years of age or older, pre-K-12 teachers, childcare and protective services workers, police officers, first responders and jail and prison staff can now receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

However, due to increasing demand and a lag in supply, it remains unclear exactly when these individuals will receive the vaccine.

Michigan Medicine announced Monday it is pausing Phase 1B vaccines altogether due to low supply in order to prioritize Phase 1A individuals so that they may receive their second dose.

Swift revealed that AAPS student athletes who qualify for state tournaments and their coaches have been participating in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services pilot antigen test program. Over the past few weeks, these students have been self-administering nasal swabs three times per week, with coaches, athletic directors and nurses completing the testing process.

“The focus of this pilot is to assess a testing protocol that can be used to ensure a safe and confident reopening of K12 schools,” wrote Swift. “As a result of their work, there is promise in this rapidly emerging testing process.”

AAPS has not yet named a date for the return of in-person learning.

According to Swift’s update, reopening will depend on the following factors:

  • Student needs, including the needs and risks experienced among our most vulnerable students, families and neighborhoods.
  • Availability of COVID testing and timely results.
  • Capacity for completing prompt contact tracing efforts.
  • Ability to ensure that all associated with the AAPS - including students, families and staff -     consistently complete the mitigation protocols when we return to schools.
  • Level and trend of COVID community spread.
  • Level of strain on community healthcare and hospital infrastructure.
  • Progress of COVID vaccination process.

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.