Local reporting Parenting ruminations

Let’s plan now for COVID-resilient school next year

In July I predicted that there would be no in-person instruction for Ann Arbor Public Schools this entire school year. Unfortunately, that prediction is looking accurate. Let’s start planning for September 2021.

The discussion among the district, board, and parents seems focused on reopening this year. At what level of disease activity, and which safety precautions, would be enough for kids to begin going to school? At least, that seemed to be the discussion a month ago, when disease levels were lower and other districts in SE Michigan (including some in Washtenaw County, like Saline and Dexter) were sending kids to school.

Especially with the current COVID surge now shutting down those other districts, it seems likely that reopening this year is not in the cards for Ann Arbor Public Schools. Given that, I fear we’re wasting precious time and energy debating possibilities and metrics for reopening this year. It echoes what happened this summer, when time spent considering possibilities for in-person instruction would have been better used on improving systems for remote instruction.

As a parent of school-aged kids, I’ve accepted that they’re staying home this year. What I want from the district right now is a plan for September 2021. If there’s a vaccine and widespread immunity by then, great – but that is not a plan. Start planning now for how, even if COVID remains present in the community, our children can return to school next fall. We will be much more likely to pull off the innovations needed – physical changes to buildings, reimagining routines and systems, reconfiguring personnel and duties – if we approach this as a deadline 10 months away, rather than myopically looking ahead just one month at a time.

The districts sends “Reimagining Learning” email updates on Fridays about what’s happening next month. While I appreciate the district’s focus on critical short-term services like food distribution, those updates don’t feel relevant when it comes to the big question: what are you doing to get kids back to school next year?

What I want from the district, most of all, is a plan for September 2021. I’ll give them a pass this year, chalk it up as a learning experience, but we must get ready for next fall. Over the summer there was hopeful chatter about outdoor classes, new ventilation systems, holding classes in other facilities, the district helping families support each other … and those ideas fizzled. Let’s partner now with other districts, health professionals, and look abroad to what has worked, and get a plan in place for our kids to have meaningful, safe in-person interactions at school next fall even assuming COVID-19 persists. (I expect those partnerships are happening now, but focused on the short-term future).

Next year, we can’t say we didn’t see it coming.

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