On February 5, the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education’s Planning Committee held a meeting. You can watch the meeting live on Zoom or on Xfinity Channel 18. Committee meetings are not typically reposted by the district but can sometimes be found on CTN’s website and YouTube Channel.
The AAPS Board Planning Committee met with Dr Swift. The meeting focused on Equity, Special Education, and briefly on Return to Learn.
Before COVID shutdown last year, the district was working on both their strategic plan and the equity plan. They were discussing combining the two into one document to make equity part of the DNA of the district. At recent meetings, the Equity Team has agreed with that approach.
Prior to COVID last year, they were working on a comprehensive assessment of special education with an outside firm, Hanover Associates. They are planning for recovery services after the return to school. They are working to standardize the process to make IEPs more consistent across the district while honoring their uniqueness. They are also working to improve the coordination with WISD on services. With return to school they will prioritize catching up on IEP meetings.
With return to school planning, they are keeping an eye to equity and that learning does not become segregated. There is concern that as we visit homes, drop off technology, deliver food, they hear from many families of color and those in poverty that they do not intend to return this year.
Dr Swift also shared some breaches of the equity plan that occurred in recent weeks, both at third grade with district content that should have been presented differently and/or with more explanations.
They are looking at a free summer learning academy expanding on last year’s program. with the hope to deliver some of it in person – pending COVID and also building repairs/upgrades scheduled for summer.
Board: Kelly, Querijero, Gaynor
There was no Public Commentary submitted for today’s meeting
Overview of Planning Work 2020-21
Kelly: Want to reflect on our normal planning for next year is interrupted by the return to in-person process.
Swift: Since March 13, I have never known a heavier time of planning than the last 10 months in my 30 years. From how to handle spring, the virtual summer learning programs, fall plans starting with the virtual start in mid-July, and return to learn plan.
From how it was going in December and January of 2019 & 2020 we were planning a draft of our strategic planning document. Our plan was to join the equity plan with the strategic plan into one plan. In December 2019 we were in robust discussion about the advantage of one plan vs two.. If you have two plans there is no plan because of the division of focus. Other systems point to the benefit of a separate equity plan. Right before we went on COVID break there was a long meeting with the equity team about merging the plans. We found a way to join the two plans. I’ll send you a copy of that document.
In January 2020 we discussed with the equity team. They were at first concerned about joining them together. They were worried a new board or superintendent that the equity pillars would get set aside. At the end of that meeting, they settled on merging the two plans. The final thinking was if we merged them, equity was embedded into the DNA of the district.
At the same time we were also working on a Special Education Progress report. On our pre-COVID timeline, we had been working about 18 months in organizational assessment work. Hanover research, an outside team, conducted a full staff, parent, community review with a survey tool and focus groups with parents, AAPAC, and more. They were per-covid and were in person groups. We also created teams with special ed staff across all job categories to review the work -there are about 12 job categories serving the 2500 students with special educational needs. Areas included communication both internal and external, insuring full development of continuum of services (from part of student’s IEP through to full hospitalization/treatment and an analysis of the continuum and found gaps in services between AAPS and WISD, alignment of services, and clear processes and protocols. IEPs are very unique to each student, but what came up was idea that if they were in school A it would look a little different than students in school B. There was work in aligning them across buildings for best practices and protocols.
Querijero: Were those everything from lodging complaints, getting tested, following IEP? Or as it about the process by which IEP was handled from when they first come in and are tested until it’s written.
Swift: It was all of the above, but the particular concern was that rose to the level was implementation. Writing IEPs. The feedback was that if a child and IEP was in a school with a team that had more experience in special ed they might have a different look than in a school with a new principal or different experiences. So, alignment while also ensuring uniqueness.
The final area I want to point to that we have been discussing with AAPAC is the building of educational capacity around inclusion across the system. Inclusion would be the first place a child is served. Our posture is not to see special education as a place but as coming to the child and always beginning and ending in the general education classroom. Not defaulting to serving them outside the classroom. I was not able to attend on Monday evening, but I understand that AAPAC had a meeting around visioning inclusion in the district.
Querijero: I attended the meeting. They brought a speaker to speak about divisions that found a team process of all sharing their vision and what to envision if there were no limits. I believe next month they will not revisit that process but will the following month. Their next meeting will be focused on return and will return in April to long and short term goals for the district. It’s in line with what you said about inclusion. But a lot was about the lens of returning.
Swift. That’s perfectly in line with our overall structure with how it started in 2020 and how it’s going now. The concerns are deep and wide around return. This work we have ahead of us to ensure recovery and restoration for special education students. We already have well into work the summer academy which will be intensive support. But also looking as we return to school whenever the family makes that choice (this spring or the fall). How will we support reentry to COVID informed school environment. I feel like IEPs may need to be adjusted.
During that hybrid time, we haven’t talked a lot about it in public because our team is still working on it. There is a heavy focus on having teams in the building to shore up special education evaluations that have fallen off their regular schedule. We’ll have something written for you to see and working with AAPAC executive board and staff and students, a written plan for recovery for our students with special needs. It’ll wrap right into the overall special education plan.
When we come back with a special education plan (I have not been able to meet again with the work team), we will fold in the COVID informed planning. It won’t let go of the planning we had from before but it will be informed and revisited by COVID.
With strategic and equity plan, we continue to meet throughout 2020. Not all groups in the district have been able to meet with so much emergency planning in 2020, but strategic and equity have. This has been very intense with the social climate and concerns in our community with how leaders and staff are treated sometimes when they have felt targeted because of race. I’ve had deep and real conversations with black administrators members of the equity team, and members of teaching and support team. That has happened through summer and fall. Really coming to fruition is the completion of the equity strategic plan. We were this close to bringing it tot he board. We were talking about how the board would sign it, but now the strong feeling of the equity team and across the system is this needs to be revisited in light of the year we have had.
Trustees I’ve shared a bit around progression with one of the law suits and I won’t say a lot about it now. I wouldn’t be open if I didn’t say there is heartbreak around how this year has unfolded in particular around white privilege has become more invisible in our community. There is deep concern that as we scale up for hybrid that there will be further segregation. In scaling up the work we are doing now to serve families who have experienced this pandemic differently. There is a commitment that we are not. I want to be clear I am not stereotyping which families go in those groups. There is concern that as we visit homes, drop off technology, deliver food, we hear from families of color and those in poverty that they do not intend to return this year. They will continue to need a full robust plan for at home learning. There is concern that our return to learn plan we are living that plan of equity and not furthering stereotypes on return to learn.
Querijero: Just to share, that the equity lens is the one we adopted and what we ended. Listening to our community, that is what I’ve heard talking to family of color and that is a sentiment that I believe is accurate.
Swift: My worry is that by movng to the addition of a hybrid that here will be implied pressure to return and that in that return staff members of color and families and children of color will be placed at greater risk. I don’t have an answer, and I think it’s important to address.
The last meeting was Tuesday with breaches in equity that occurred last week. They were breaches in how curricula were delivered. I’ll just highlight an example. Both occurred in 3rd grade out of reading materials being used in the classroom.
One lesson was ELA about contextual clues, normally this time of year we worry because it is Black History Month, but we always have a heightened awareness. It was a lesson about contextual clues but it was a brief booklet about the celebration of Juneteenth. The description was stated as African Americans sipping red soda and eating barbecue. The teaching learning network that brought that lesson forward is a diverse group. As we met, African American team members saw that in completely different ways (as did other staff of different ethnic group). It was an independent reading because children weren’t guided with it. We have met with the equity team and the third grade team. No one was in trouble, those who felt this was history so it was ok, others said if it’s going to be in there, there needs to be context. We are wrapping back to our provider of academic reading materials and wrapping back to the author. We want to get this fixed. A separate discussion for context or fix the material.
The second was around the Negro Baseball League. It was historical, and is a historic chapter to study. But, in the lesson there was no work noted around the use of the word Negro and it was a third grade lesson. It came to pass that in one class used that to refer to another student. The team felt that was a breach of equity. We should have included the context of that word and understand the use of that as the historic league, but we feel differently about the use of the word now. While there are 600-75 teachers in the 3rd grade, only about 15 are on the ELA committee.
One of our areas of work is to refine the breach process. To investigate and confirmed what really happened, how many children got the lesson, what do we need to do to repair or restore, what are we going to do to fix the system so we don’t have it repeat again.
Gaynor: My overarching question is are we not giving credit to teachers to work through these issues or are teachers just being left out of the process. I’ve taught third grade and would have the discussion with my class. I’m a little worried about being overly strict with what we allow teachers to use.
Swift: I want to be clear the breach was raised by teachers, discussed by teachers, this is absolutely our amazing teachers working through these questions. I want to stress that all of these discussions have been with teachers except the equity team wants to discuss the process of dealing with a breach. And how to improve for next year. I found discussions fascinating as even among teachers of color there are a wide variety of opinions. Even around the food on the Juneteenth there are regional differences in how it is perceived. Equating food to a group of people is one of those ways that we get to the single stereotypical story which we are trying to resist.
Kelly: It’s also a service to teachers to provide that support. There is a value to use that especially with cancel culture even around innocent mistakes. I appreciate the thinking on this.
Querijero: Those students engaging in those lessons are in a much different environment. When they are reacting in the virtual space, so there level of comfort about what they will and own’t say and the teachers response needs to handle that. To keep that student view and behaviors that would be enforced in school which aren’t so easily and readily in virtual world. Talking to them privately means calling them out into a breakout room and is more visible.
Swift: I think one of the concerns is there is so much time on teachers right now. Those who were using and not creating the lesson, may not have caught it before presenting.
The third area is I do believe there is a repair of the breach practice that has to happen with black administrators coming out of the court this week. I plan to meet with them over the coming days. I have met with them several times already. I want to talk to them. They do feel during the court process that the board and superintendent were unable ot speak to these issues. Yet, I spoke to them privately, but there has been harm done. I can’t fix it, but I do believe we have to get a process on how to repair when it occurs on our watch. It isn’t just those individuals called out in the suit but everyone in the system who felt diminished in the suit.
We are elbow deep in return to in person school. We’ll be in video discussions with principals that we will be sharing next week. You’ve heard in the equity part our concerns about the next step. With Washtenaw County being the highest case numbers in the state, we have many concerns.
As we look at summer, fall and beyond. The summer plan is based on last year but more robust. We’d love it to build it for full in person, but I’m asking for them to build it to work in multiple formats. We’ll have to see as March, April, May go to see how that will work.
May of our schools have major physical property projects which is a concern as well. How to move our parents, students, staff, and community past the pain of the COVID time. How to repair, restore, renew, and how to get past the vitriol that has characterized the conversation. I do know as a community we have healing and restoration processes that need to occur. I will be asking with planning committee and members of my team and community members. We need to come to the table and also look at innovations and developments that we want to keep to leverage and serve students better. In some of the COVID time strategies and steps we will need to retain. I believe we will still need to wear masks in schools. There will be a number of thins that parents, students, staff will say we want to hang onto. Perhaps every child having their own device, a fully stocked library they carry around all the time. What processes will be have to emerge from COVID time better and stronger than we were before.
Querijero: What rises to the top for me, I would like to attend your meeting today to hear administrators and community about challenges for the hybrid.
Swift: The meeting today is a video recording. It is a work session to record with principals responses to the most commonly submitted questions. It is the recording of the information sessions for next week.
Swfit: The first part of it is the presentation from last board meeting defining hybrid. The second part of it is Mr Cluley asking some of the most common parent questions and giving those answers on a screen so parents can hear them. We’ll be writing that down as answers for the parents.
For example, question 1 is why do we have to have a hybrid.
Querijero: I’m trying to understand, we’re crafting responses, or having a discussion.
Swift: Crafting responses. One example is “Why do we have to have a hybrid plan. Why can’t we just go back to school as we knew it?” A lot of parents don’t know why we can’t do 5 days a week. The answer is pretty straight forward. We are required to maintain social distance. It is a MIOSHA. To maintain social distance, we have to de-densify the school. As much as we would love 5 days a week, that is why we have to start with a hybrid. The first set of sessions next week are very general. The following set of public community meetings will be at the school level. That’s where most parents will find that more helpful. It will be more specific questions to their school. I don’t want to get your hopes up Trustee Querijero, it’s just helping parents understand the definition of hybrid.
Kelly: I’d also like to clarify the trustee role in that meeting. What were you envisioning Querijero.
Querijero: Just a listener.
Gaynor: Yes, I’d appreciate having the link too. I did watch the training from Wednesday. I’d only observe. I see no place in being an active participant.
Swift: It is a team meeting. It would not be normal for a trustee to engage. I respect you might want to see it. I will make the team aware you might be there to reserve. It is a bit unusual.
Gaynor: About information, I know there is a tentative time line. My understanding is the dates are placeholders.
Swift: We have no dates. We have three weeks before, two weeks before, one week before.
Gaynor: Is there a document we can see with those dates and steps?
Swift: I’ve reviewed the steps. That is in my board presentation. The employee groups and myself are at the table very often. There i s nothing surprising there. Teachers will report about 3 days ahead of students reporting. Administrators and OPs report prior ot that. That is still in process at many tables we meet every week. How a return to school looks at the end of August is pretty much how it looks here.
Kelly: In the fall, I think early November-ish I believe Dr Fidician had shared many ways families could reach out for additional support. I believe a hot line, and different forums, and websites. Do we have data from that? How many people did reach out for help, what are the trends that we can use to supplement our Hanover findings.
Swift: I can’t imagine that we don’t have that data but I haven’t personally seen it. I will follow up to see if we’ve kept a log of calls and emails.
Kelly: I think it would be a great overlay to have to see if some of the innovations we’ve had with COVID have improved some problems.
Swift: I believe communication has improved with teachers teaching at kitchen table -there’s more close proximity with the families.
We wouldn’t have data on the informal ways teachers and parents have engaged, but we would have the central call or hot line numbers.
Kelly: I think the way we wrap today up is what are our next steps as a committee? How would you like us to structure our committee work to best support the team in those areas?
Swift: I know the trustees will respond. Just to reiterate. We need and appreciate the guidance and engagement of trustees and committees. I want to bring these plans forward. It is better if I bring you the work we’re doing and not some special thing we’ve created for a committee. Committees work best when it’s the real work you’re guiding and governing. I would appreciate being able to bring these forward as we move through the coming weeks.
Querijero: For being the newcomer, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the intersection. My mind is on making sure the summer learning plan is important. To get that information out and plan that work. And that work would help with what things look like for fall. Whether that’s a little to singular for our committee, that’s where my mind is out.
Swift: That would normally come in March. It’s a bit of a stretch, but that is the normal timeline. It is absolutely on our plate and on our list.
We’ll hash out via email so we can have our calendars up side by side. It sounds like we tentatively came to Fridays, with details to be worked out. We will share details when they are worked out.