On Friday, September 11 the Planning Committee of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education held a public meeting to discuss the Return to In Person Learning.
For a Summary and Updates from future meetings, be sure to check our summary of When Is It Safe to Return to School which will be updated with future meetings and other updates.
Meeting Attendees & Backgrounds:
Trustees: Kelly, Gaynor, Johnson
District: Swift, Parks, Bacolor
Trustee Kelly reminds the community that nothing happening at the Committee meeting is final and is the way that plans get informed and the metrics by which the district will determine the metrics.
My notes: These are live blogged. Please excuse typos and name mis-spellings.
There are 19 public commentary. Each will be limited to 1:35 and will be quickly wrapped up. The full commentary is available to the public on Board Docs in the meeting agenda. I summarized them as they were being read. Apologies for summarizing and paraphrasing as she was reading them fast and they were trimmed to 95 seconds each. I have corrected name spellings, and typos, but refer you to the full comments linked above.
- Emily Barker – I look forward to the return to school plan. Disappointed by the the lack of information. Long term virtual is unacceptable for elementary. Social interaction is a main component of school. My kids have a hard time remaining focused for even 30 minutes. Recess means seeing friends, which they aren’t now. These kids need to be in school in person
- Katie Dortch – We are one week into school with first grade and Young 5 and I can tell this will be unsustainable for the long term. My husband is a police officer working out of home and I work at home. We were told there would be Connections+ but it has been radio silence. My 4 year old takes breaks and is watching TV because I am working. I am asking, begging to get little kids back to school. There are 30 empty buildings not being used. Surely there is a way to safely distance and be in the classroom. Zoom doesn’t work for a 4 year old. They can’t manage on their own. We were told there would be help, we cannot afford pods, private tutors, etc. like so many in Ann Arbor. This is a complete disaster for our children.
- Megan Molleron – I am emailing to let you know I’ve heard about how horrible things are going for their kids. We are having a great experience with our teacher. She is trying super hard and we landed the gold mine with her. FYI we did the summer learning to acclimate our son to online learning. I love AAPS and our school Mitchell
- Stephanie McCarty – I appreciate effort going into this. After 2 days of virtual learning I can say this won’t work for my family – young 5s at Haisley. My son loves school, but doing this all year would be worse than taking him out of school altogether. We have a family household with 2 parents working. It’s nearly impossible to work while keeping a 4 yr old engaged on Zoom. I encourage school board to encourage in-person learning for youngest children. We can’t afford private school, but don’t qualify for Peace neighborhood. Please help we can’t do this much longer.
- Rachel Huebner – Young 5s, I can’t get my child yo engage with learning. His limited knowledge of letters & numbers and can’t mute, unmute. Gallery view is very distracting, but if he pins the teacher, he misses seeing classmates.
- Andrea Huang – I am providing feedback on current Classroom Connect and suggestions for this digital school year. This is not realistic or sustainable for my family or many families across the district. Too much screen time, too few breaks, too little social interaction. My K spent 90 minutes and 1st grade 2 hours. This is way over the AAP recommended screentime. Zoom meetings aren’t designed for 15-20 students. They can talk 3-5 times a day and only can say 3-5 sentences. I recognized teachers are doing the best they can. Teachers are caring,. This may be ok for middl and high school, not for elementary. My husband works from home and I have 2 younger children at home.
- Kristine Fortin McWilliams – HB (too fast for me to get it)_. Describes key metrics that school districts and public health officials must communicate and be eligible for funding. I am requesting disclosure of key metrics AAPS & Washtenaw County Health have calculated. This includes: Trend of COVID=19 cases or tests, hospitalizations, number of deaths over a 14 day period. Cases per day per 1 million people. Healthcare capacity & strength. If AAPS isn’t compliant, I request disclosure of development of these key metrics.
- Shannon Hughes Hautamaki – I want board to take into consideration what we are doing to youngest learners as distance learners. It seems we’ve lost our way and thrown out what we know about child development. Firstly, there is a preponderance of evidence young children are not drivers of COVID-19 spread. Please look at spread of communities that have done the work like Ann Arbor and have opened daycares. I’ve watched my son and peers navigate the first week of distance learning. He has decided school is boring and tried to hit the leave meeting button multiple times. He’s never been able to meet his teacher or class. The few times I’ve seen his light up when he has a chance to share and die when he realizes he is on mute.
- Stephanie Sullivan – I am writing about my learning experience with Kindergarten. My daughter is bright, has no connection to students and teacher. She is bored. I’m fearful she will refuse to sign in at some point. You can’t engage a 5 year old like an 8 year old. I expect AAPS to educate my kid, right now they are failing.
- Kathy Bishop – as a taxpayer, single mom, and parent of 2 kids with IEPs, I hope you spend as much time and effort as you did with starting fall sports. Kids are still be exposed to others in pods and we are experiencing additional expenses in daycare or trying to work while kids are learning. My kids are failing further behind by the day as they are not receiving IEP services. Daily temperature checks, social distancing, cleaning, PPE, are working in other environments
- Margo Spera – I write on behalf of my kindergartener and community. Nearly 90% of districts have some in person learning. Families of every kid are suffering – meanwhile AAPS is offering fall sports. This is tone-deaf. We need specifics on how children will go back. At this point we’ve been advised of nothing of substance. We’ve learned nothing. AAPS is why we chose to move to Ann Arbor from out of state. We are reconsidering our decision.
- Jamie Pero – I thank the board for getting the school year off to a slow start. I’m writing about my concern (K and 2nd grader at Lawton plus a 2 yr old). My 2nd grader complained of a headache after 2 hours on screen. My K couldn’t talk to her teacher because of audio issues. We had to buy special headphones for both children. I am with my children for the entirety of school to help with tech and staying focus. How will this work for a full day? Half-days were enough. Scheduled items or breaks didn’t match one would end when another started. We couldn’t go outside. Can all elementary be at the same time so we can go outside. How will children be assessed? How will my daughter’s teacher know if she is on track?
- Jen Larson -Infection rate in Washtenaw County is low at this time. Thea teachers union requested 0- cases for 14 days. This is unattainable even with a vaccine. This is important as many other professions are now back at work. Why can daycare centers, Wide World, and others providing face to face when schools are not. Not having face to face is detrimental to young children. Undue burden on families and increases disparities. How is AAPS going to provide for those children? I ask BOE to review data and figure out how to return to school – unused space, teacher helpers, etc.
- Danielle Shapiro – I ask that parents get a specific time line or at least metrics. Virtual Kindergarten is painful to watch. It is quiet, lonely, and isolating. A parent has to be present at all times. I wonder if it is worse than nothing. No fault of his teacher. We as a family need to plan if or how we are going to keep doing this. That will depend on if in person is foreseeable this year.
- Leah Pinho – My 5 year old is completing his first week of kindergarten. I’m thankful for district and staff to adapt. Please make sure all teachers are available of how iPad works. Teachers don’t seem to know teachers view is different than students on iPad. Only teacher sees all students in presentation. Even when not in presentation mode, kids only see a limited number of classmates. Please consider making K half days and teach half the kids in morning and half in the afternoon. This would allow teachers to teach half the students at a time.
- Naomi Goldberg – Unless I missed it, this comment was not read – I’m the parent of a 7 yr old second grader who receives supportive services. I am disappointed in the way AAPS has moved forward with this school year. Many chose to live in AAPS boundaries because of the amazing district. Yet other districts around the state and country have show more creativity and flexibility neither of which I see here. They have opened in person services to children in self-contained special education classrooms and to those receiving early intervention. Other schools have done in person outdoor services for children with IEPs. Others have offered training for parents on supporting education at home. Regardless of when school resumes, I ask to prioritize emotional and mental health and consider a tiered system to provide necessary services.
Background on Metrics to Return to In Person Learning
Dr Swift: You have seen many of the slides today already. We wanted to observe through the August timeline and see how reopenings progressed.
I want to thank everyone who spoke and shared today. I took careful notes and will share with my team.
It was mid-July when the summer surge showed we couldn’t have a full face to face opening. We have purchased PPE, cleaning buildings, added plexiglass, markers on floors, etc. We are not alone in this decision. Approximately 90% of students in southeast Michigan began in a virtual setting. None of us want this, it is not our first chance plan for learning. Having them in person in buildings is our first choice. But with the rates and the way it is spreading, the safest choice is to begin with virtual learning.
Buses are routed, protocols for safe use of PPE, trained 2000 staff members for COVID preparedness trainings. Team is working on touchless doors and bathrooms. Flushing water to ensure it is safe.
We know there are families who do not plan to return until there is a vaccine or through the school year. Families may remain virtual.
Harvard Global Health Institute:
The single best policy to support school re-opening prior to the development of a vaccine or treatment is suppression of COVID to near zero case incidence.
This can be achieved via universal mask wearing, rigorous social distancing, reduction or elimination of indoor congregant settings and testing, tracing, and supported isolation”
CDC Guiding Principles
- Lowest Risk – virtual Only
- More Risk = small in person classes, activities, and events. This would be hybrid
- Highest Risk – Full sized in person classes
Rollout Process for Hybrid Learning & Continued Virtual Learning
Reimagine Learning Plan
Jazz Parks explains transition to hybrid
- Stage 1 : Grade Y5-K-1-2 Students & Willing students and families who are most in need of in person learning or for whom virtual learning is the most challenging (Special Education with high impact, English Language Learners, & those with additional needs)
- Stage 2 – Grades 3-5
- Stage 3 – Secondary students beginning with middle school then high school students
Dr Swift explained that Preschool will run across Stage 1. We do know there are many needs in that group, but it is also more complex. We will be entering students with highest needs first. Preschool is at Westerman and several elementary locations
Ms Bacolor – We are looking at a 3 week interval and work out any kinks before we move to the next stage.
New digital library and academic reading supports will roll out soon. We are only district with full digital library. New performing & visual arts software.
Our goal is to review metrics by 3rd week of each month. There is an AAPS data dashboard and to update it by the end of the month. AAPS meets weekly with Washtenaw County Health & university and community leaders. Starting Monday state data will include name of schools with cases and data associated with them. Ms Bacolor keeps up with school outbreaks, but have not had it in a dashboard. By the end of the month confirm with board and community about return to in person the following month.
I spoke to all other county districts. Most are giving a 2 week notice on return to school. Some staff will need to be called back to duty before reopening.
Reminder again that this is not a decision, but a working document and session.
Trustee Johnson: Just confirming, dashboard will be available Monday, September 14.
Swift: Ms Bacolor Is that the state or MDHHS?
Ms Bacolor: It is MDHHS. I don’t know what it will look like. We’ll all discover on Monday.
Metrics on Return to School
Ms Bacolor started by sharing the context for looking at COVID metrics.
What we know is schools have the best chance of successful reopening when there is low community spread. By successful that means opening and staying open. Community spread is people get it in the community and don’t know where they got it from. We want that community spread as low as possible to mitigate the spread in our buidlings.
When we look at community spread we look at very local plus region and state. State and school districts have mostly been on their own and using lots of approaches across the country. Number of new cases, number of per capita new cases (per 100K or 1 million), and positivity rates for diagnostic testing.
Michigan Safe Start plan includes things like hospitalization and death rate. It did not set specific targets for remote vs in person.
There are many dashboards and sources of COVID-19 data and vary in how they define a case. Some only include lab confirmed and others include probable cases. Also vary by timing – 7 day rolling average, 14 day rolling average. Each define risks differently and colors don’t always match up. As a district, we need to boil that down and look at consistent sources for decision making.
No one data indicator can tell the story of community spread. AAPS community of staff and learners extends beyond Washtenaw County. Staff & students come from other counties. UM has campus dashboard, but we are not including because they are folded into county data and we don’t want to double count.
New Daily Cases Trend
The goal is a downward trend sustained over 14+ days.
Washtenaw County Cases: They are looking for downward trend in cases per week
New Cases per Million
This allows comparison to other municipality. MI Safe Start map uses this criteria. Risk levels:
- Low: <7 cases/million
- Medium: 7-20 cases/million
- High: 40-70 cases/million
- Very High: >70 cases/million
As a county we have never been less than 7 cases per million. If we st that as a goal, that would be really hard to achieve. Ms Bacolor suggests looking at medium risk.
New Cases Per 100,000
Harvard Global Health Uses this method (Note numbers are just the cases per million divided by 10)
- Low: <1 daily new cases
- Yellow (Medium) – 1-10 daily new cases per 100,000
- Orange: 10-25 daily new cases per 100,000
- Red: >25 daily new cases per 100,000
Ms Bacolor recommends 1-5/100,000
Trustee Gaynor clarified that 20 cases per million equal 2 cases per 100,000.
Ms Bacolor clarified that it is not necessarily the same data based on the case data being used to calculate each.Mi Safe Start defines by day of symptom onset from MDHHS, if they don’t know that date it is by test date. Harvard Global Health Institute uses other data.
Swift: One discussion we are having is possibly phasing in even Stage 1.
Trustee Kelly: How widely is our area varying from lab confirmed and probable.
Bacolor: Probably cases is on the county health department. Probable cases are iupdated on Fridays. Currently 437 probable vs 2753 confirmed cases.
Kelly: Is it likely to be undercounted, especially among youngest kids because they have mild cases? If we have more testing there are more likely to be more cases, but positivity rate might go down.
Bacolor: Yes, that’s why we look at multiple metrics.
Positivity Rate of Disagnostic Tests
Harvard recommends less than 3%. New York is using less than 1%. MI Safe Start says less than 3% is low risk.
Washtenaw County PreK-12 Cases and 0-18 Age
We don’t have a set metric here. But as a school district we should monitor this.
Where Are We Today:
- New Daily Cases –
- Washtenaw County: Flat
- Region: Down
- State: Down
- New cases Per Million –
- Washtenaw County: 28.5 – Medium High
- Regoon: 36.2 in Region (High)
- State: 40.7
- Washtenaw County 5
- Region: N/A
- State: 7.7
- Washtenaw: 1.8%
- Region: 4.1%
- State 3.4%
- Demographics –
- Skewing Younger 228 cases from 8/22 -9/4: 3% 0-9, 10% 10-18, 36% 18-22
- Racial Composition is also shifting
Summary & Discussion
Dr Swift: remember this is a dial that turns, not an on/off switch. It’s also important to qualify under what metrics we would return to all virtual. We have sen other districts open and have to go back to closure.
Trustee Gaynor: Two factors: Given we are planning to return to in person, I want to make sure we have teachers and staff to do that. I assume we do, but want to verify that won’t be an obstacle?
Swift: There are many other steps in process and that is one of them. What is the timeline between a decision and opening face to face. If we transition phased process we take this one step at a time.
Parks: When working in collaboration with teachers association we planned at every level to pivot to blended level and that included staffing.
Gaynor: Also, we’re hearing challenges particularly with Young 5/Kindergarten. But our data isn’t as specific for that age. Do we have a way to assess that risk? How does the data impact those metrics.
Bacolor: It is so hard because research is just beginning on youngest children. Because schools were closed across the country there were few cases among youngest children. There has been an assumption they can’t get it or transmit it. We know from a South Korean study, young children seem less likely to transmit (60k person study) and seem to have milder symptoms from other studies. They’re probably the safest ones to bring back.
Gaynor: I’m asking if we lessen requirements to get those students back because of how it does’t work well for them and they are lower risk.
Swift: It is an important part of the equation. I do want to revisit the role of schools in reducing community spread. It isn’t just whether young children are susceptible, but it is also important about the adults that must be there to serve young children. We also worked with UM epidemiologist and guidance around level of community spread where the district becomes a driver of community spread. We need to work with experts to make sure we’re not contributing to the problem that keeps us from staying open.
General Discussion: Do general metrics apply to all students or does it depend on age. ie lower grades can go back at higher metrics.
Johnson: I think first is are these the right metrics? Then what should the level be. Should we be looking even finer once we’re back about looking at cases in a single school and examining as we flesh out the plan.
Swift: One of our public commentaries covered the protocols for when there is a case and the actions per school and class. This is in the 250+ page action plan that the board approved previously. We’ll keep a list of questions from meetings and engage with medical and public health experts.
Just an FYI one grade leel is about 1200 students. Phase 1 of Young 5-2nd is about 8k students about 21 buildings.
Gaynor: When we come back I assume class sizes are fairly normal in 20s, when we come back live will we be in smaller classes? Also repeating suggestion of half-day kindergarten from public commentary
Swift: I noted that half-day kindergarten. I thought that was interesting and will take back to team. In a class of 25, based on data it looks like about 5 will remain to virtual. Leaving 20 students to return on an A/B cohort hybrid data with about 10 students. That does not ensure every student will have 6′ at all times during the day. Our guideline will be all fully masked, desks spaced apart.
Kelly: Can you talk about choice families will have? If 5/25 decided to remain virtual, if the metric is outside comfort of some families, can they say we changed our mind?
Swift: Yes, we have said that from the beginning. With new research on longer term impacts, I do receive emails from families saying we won’t be ready. During the transition period to start in person, we would poll families to determine that situation to help build cohorts.
Kelly: When we talk about the youngest & those with learning needs to first to return, there’s a tension between providing service to IEP students and also about inclusion. Is there an inclusion with bringing back just theose with services needed for grade 3-5 but not other students.
Swift: Yes, it is an option to meet the needs of the student. I t might be that the student is getting assistance at school in engaging with the mainstream virtual classroom. But they’re also getting in person support services delivered. We can meet parents where they are.
It is also possible in and many districts have this in their plan that most impacted students could get 4 days in person instead of just 2 days.
Kelly: Typically the first few days fo school aren’t like real school
You talkeda bout supply bins being distributed this week. It’s first week of school. Using schoology, using mute button. What will regular virtual school look like after this transition week.
Swift: I don’t have the list with me, but can pull it up. It’s things like Math journal, art supplies, manipulatives,
Parks: Lower elementary students like: mini scissors, pencils, sharpeners, paper, watercolors, glue sticks, colored pencils.
Upper elementary: similar items and co9mposition and spiral notebooks.
Secondary: Specific to classes like art and things of that nature. They are pretty comprehensive msupply kits.
Kelly: Is it going to be one size fits all for 3rd grade or specific per teacher.
Parks: However schools are providing additional items.
Swift: Will also be specific materials for IEP or OT or PT distributed more on a special situation.
Kelly: Is there a target week:
Parks: We’re targeting the week of September 21st. or the following. Waiting for them to arrive and distribute to the schools.
Swift: I was just told 9/22-25
Gaynor: Folks are looking forward to Wednesday Rec & Ed
Baclaor: Yes, it will be out early next week. I need one more confirming conversation.
Kelly: Dr Swift can you clarify Link or Connect or Virtual and make anote for Connections+ It seems theris ia misunderrtanding on Conenctions
Swift: Some folks concerned about blending of Link and Classroom Connect. We ended up needing to blend those classrooms. But we will work through that process. Families who want to remain virtual will be able to. Those who want to transition can. Parents have shifted in their preference and may continue to shift. Let’s continue as we are and principals will poll again to meet needs of students and families.
On Connections+, I do understand folks felt if they checked it they would automatically get the additional group support. We are phasing it in. Ms Margolis is working on it. There are about 150 students getting additional support with AAPS alongside Peace neighborhood. We are adding more support groups. Intervention support are managing small groups many conducted virtually. Many staff members in face to face will have caseloads who forma connections+ group. It could be a counselor or community assistant at secondary or a building literacy at elementary. If a parent has a concern, work first with teacher and principal. What is the extra support? For students with IEPs it may be a teacher consultant or intervention specialist providing service via breakout rooms.
Parks: We know we are going to try to be as agile as possible to respond to needs of students. At start of Connections+ there needed to be a phased approach. Mostly virtual with small face to face building over time.
Kelly: I appreciate that clarifications. Connections+ is for students who need more support. The way it is phased in is students already affiliated with community partners are first phase. Then other groups will be a phased that needs to be formed as family and school determine the group that best meets student needed. English language learners some do better in virtual learning and others may need via additional support.
Gaynor: I’d like to be clear where this leaves us, what the end result of this discussion is.
Swift: What I’m leaving with is lookign at the metrics and starting back when it’s 5 cases per million or less. The end of each month in addition to briefing the board we would confirm with the board and community where we are.
I heard today that we met it on Positivity Rate in County but are off the mark in cases per 100k, and cases per 1 million. While we are downward, our trend line has flattened. If this were the end of the month, Ms Bacolor’s conclusion would be we just aren’t quite there yet.
Ms Bacolor: Yes, that’s correct. And I just got the data from yesterday. There were 42 cases in Washtenaw County and over 1300 in the state yesterday. So we’ve got a ways to go still.
Johnson: As I look at it, I feel like these are the right metrics. I’m not sure how much clearer it is. Yes, we could discuss 1-4 or 1-5 per 100k. If we were to get all green we would start phasing in after three weeks, or would it be right away. Because my question is about the monthly check-in vs a rolling checkin.
Swift: Perhaps we could do twice a month. I would have to see what the timeline for activating transportation and staff. We were thinking of a minimum of 2 week notice. It would also depend on what families tell us. Is it where many families are still feeling uncertain so it would be a small group of students.
Bacolor: The final metric is more qualitative of looking at what’s happening in our local schools. We saw what happened after the Saline party that led to an outbreak. The county numbers still looked ok. That’s why it’s more than just numbers if that thad happened in Ann Arbor.
Kelly: What will be the “Go Signal”? What should families look for – board vote, call from Superintendent, dashboard itself.
Swift: I’m looking at signaling when the threshold is met and seeing if we maintain for 14 days. It’s like with snow days and 20 below wind chill. It isn’t just crossing the threshold but sustaining the 20 below.
Swift: I polled other superintendents in the districts about their plan. They’ve posted dates when they will review and when the board will review. Because we haven’t posted some parents have written that they don’t think we are serious about reopening. That’s why we’ve said we will review monthly.
Johnson: My idea would be that the board establish a process that 14 number of days that we hit X metrics we can go forward without an extra meeting and can alert the public and start the 2-3 week restart process (which assumes we still stay where we should be). If that’s not feasible from operation standpoint, I get that. Pretty much across the country dates are arbitrary and are getting pushed back. We didn’t want to give people false hope with a date. Hopefully there is a percent of the population that prefers not gettign a date that isn’t going to happen.
Swift: If the board approved a process, our steps would be set. We would watch and start the process when the district is having.
Kelly: I’d agree I’d rather be agile based on science than arbitrary based on the calendar
Gaynor: I’d agree too to make sure we consult with medical and see if its reasonable to have a tiered threshold for youngest students.
Kelly: Did we get a clarification if the metric is tiered by age or the same for all.
Swift: I think it’s been set at 1-5 cases per 100k. But I think you’re asking if we can bring young 5/Ks in before that. I don’t see the threshold changing remarkably. It’s the risk of staff and community spread.
Bacolor: The metrics are based on the whole school community and not just on age groups. We’re thinking about teachers, TAs, other adults in the building. Harvard frames it as you have risk levels and priority groups. By bringing back priority groups first you’re addressing that need.
Gaynor: With the feedback we had today and not hitting metrics yet, how will we make virtual work for the Young 5s and K.
Swift: At the risk of being misquoted or being judged, our K & Young 5 counts are lower than usual. That’s because families have made the decision to wait a year or even a semester. I believe children are better in school, but I completely understand if a family decides the virtual experience is not what they hoped and it would be better to wait for in person. That is a personal family decision. I only raise it because every single superintendent sees the same dynamic in their data. It is particularly true for Young 5s.
I am definitely going to wrap back to the Kindergarten half-day option.
Swift: Would process be appropriate to go to Executive Community or Board? I sense that the community and attendees today would prefer to get this nailed down by end of September.
Johnson: It makes sense that a committee can approve something to the full board.
Kelly: The benefit of bringing to the full board is all on the board can provide input
Johnson: I agree as soon as possible to bring to the whole board.
Swift: Ok, we can bring it to the full board. We have meetings the 16th and 30th. Other districts are reassessing at the end of the month, so we will be in line with them.
Johnson: First week went well in my house with 2 students and an AAPS teacher. We had a few glitches, but went well and was proud to see the result of what we have approved. Happy we are providing this level.
Swift: I appreciate every parent that took time to write. We are receiving 100s of emails a day and are reading them all. I want to thank our parents and I do understand the challenges of the pandemic. We are going to have to get through this as a community. Our folks will stay on the phone until we get you connected. Ms Parks reminded me it’s just the 4th day and even in person there aer usually still bugs to be worked out.
We have since June known we needed to be read for full virtual, but didn’t know until mid-July that it was our path. I appreciate trustees support to provide funding to build our virtual system. You’re right it doesn’t meet every need and we never pretended it would.
Meeting adjourned at 5:38.