ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Ann Arbor Public Schools district canceled classes on Monday (Nov. 1).
In an announcement last Wednesday, Superintendent Dr. Jeanice Swift said the district typically sees a lot of student and staff absences between Halloween and Election Day -- and COVID could make that issue worse.
Throughout the school year, individual schools have gone remote for a day, but this is the first time there are no classes for the entire district.
Getting the notice in less than a week before the closure was not ideal for parents.
“Now we have to, on short notice, arrange how to feed the kids how to entertain the kids,” a father of two elementary-aged children said.
He said he was able to make it work.
“We just had to rearrange the meetings around it, but for anybody who has to be someplace by the time randomly throwing a big, big monkey wrench into the plans,” he said.
Fred Klein has been a teacher in the district for the last 32 years and is now the president of Ann Arbor Education Association, the union that represents district staff. He said while it is inconvenient for parents, the district is also juggling major challenges.
“There are 50 unfilled teaching jobs and 90 unfilled paraprofessional jobs. Those positions are being staffed by subs when there are subs available,” Klein said.
He said this was an issue before the pandemic, but COVID has brought on unique difficulties. For example, daily absences. Due to COVID protocols, staff can’t come to school with a cough or sniffle like they may have before the pandemic.
The lack of staff and substitutes is hard on the teachers who are present.
“Teachers are being asked to cover classes during their prep time, so they lose their prep time. At the elementary level, a lot of our specialists, so like music, art PE library, they are pulled and those services aren’t offered to students,” Klein said.
He hopes teachers could use the off day as a chance to breathe. Klein believes the community can help out if they have the free time to apply to be a substitute or volunteer their time to help supervise lunchrooms. As for a long-term solution, Klein suggested people vote for more school funding. If there are more incentives for teachers, it may be easier to attract new hires.
Another parent told Local 4, they understand there are staff shortages everywhere but don’t want last-minute cancellations to become a habit. When they spoke in front of the board of education last week, the parent suggested limiting the barriers the community may have to become a substitute and offering teachers other support when they are burned out instead of days off.