Parents urging Ann Arbor schools to reopen as district contends with slow vaccine rollout

Parents from the Ann Arbor school district who are pushing for students to get back in class in-person, say not only is it safe, but it is also good for their emotional - and mental health.

"As far as this open letter goes, what we want is kind of simple, it's just tell us the truth," said Daniel Beard.

Some parents and physicians alike are urging Ann Arbor Public Schools to set clear target dates for restarting in-person learning. Beard helped write an open letter to the district Monday, asking that it commit to applying CDC recommended school reopening criteria and announce its plans for next year by April 15th. More than a thousand people have signed it.

"We don't want to find out in Sept. of 2021 that our kids aren't going back to school in Sept. of 2021," he said.

Doctors Joanna Spencer-Segal and Kimberly Monroe, are two of nearly 400 physicians and psychologists who signed the open letter to the district. They expressed their support of the governor's recommendation for schools to offer an in-person learning option no later than March 1st.
"The science is very clear, and again, as the CDC guidelines came out last Friday, that children, certainly the elementary school children, can go back for face-to-face in a hybrid setting," said Dr. Monroe, a parent.
The district received their letter February 5th.  Ann Arbor School Board member Jessica Kelly had this to say at a meeting a few days later.

"Not a single doctor who has signed any letter this year, is willing to do themselves what they're demanding of our teachers," Kelly said. "You will never find an unvaccinated doctor simultaneously addressing 10 or 20 or 30 patients, even through well visits, in a closed room for seven hours straight, wearing only a cotton mask."

"We've heard from a lot of members of our community, people who have signed the letter that we co-authored, who expressed real dismay from hearing this kind of rhetoric from one of the members of the Ann Arbor board of education," said Dr. Spencer-Segal. 

Kelly later apologized for that comment

The district says it continues to set its course for a spring offering of face-to-face learning, but Washtenaw County has been slow in rolling out the vaccine for teachers.

Not all Ann Arbor Public School parents are in a rush to re-start in-person instruction.

"I think the board of education and the superintendent are doing a really good job in evaluating the risk-benefit equation in returning to school," said Thomas Pedrnoi, a parent and education professor. 

Ann Arbor Public Schools superintendent is also raising concern of the new contagious Covid variant that has surfaced in the city as well as the spread in Washtenaw County. 

To read the physicians and psychologists open letter: CLICK HERE

To read the community letter: CLICK HERE

For the full statement by board of education trustee Jessica Kelly see below:

"My comment was responding to a specific set of individuals who have been outspoken in their demands to re-open school buildings without regard to the complexities of doing so.   I have nothing but appreciation for the work of physicians and nurses in the health care of our children, and I share the concerns around isolation and its impacts during COVID.  I never intended to convey anything other than gratitude for the bravery and expertise of our medical community working in their various specialties during the pandemic, and for anything short of that I apologize.  

"I want the community to know that schools and the complexities of education during a pandemic are being addressed by experts who are highly skilled in their own areas of expertise. We rely on a team of professionals in instruction and curriculum delivery to 18,000+ students, human resources and the related legalities for 3,000+ employees, overall public health, building and facility management of 3.4 million ft2, transportation covering 7,000 miles a day, early childhood education, secondary education, and the list goes on.  Additionally, we take very seriously the contributions of the physical and mental health communities (and others!) as it informs our overall work, and I appreciate the communication from both individuals and groups.  

"As K-12 schools remain the second-highest number of current and ongoing COVID-19 clusters and outbreaks in Michigan, behind only long-term care facilities, we want to ensure our staff has access to vaccines, proper PPE, fast and reliable testing, contact tracing, and vetted protocols that have been developed and improved over the last year.  At this time, teachers do not have access to all of those things.   Most notably, Washtenaw County lags far behind the state in offering vaccines to teachers.

"I hope that we agree as a community that no one should be compelled to face COVID and its variants without the protections that are now available."

For the full statement by Ann Arbor Supt. Dr. Jeanice Kerr Swift (see below): 

"The Ann Arbor Public Schools continues to monitor the situation daily and continue to set our course for a spring offering of an in-person option. We continue with the fundamental concerns we have shared in updates over previous weeks. Washtenaw County has been the slowest in rolling out the vaccine for K-12 education staff as identified in the Michigan Education Association survey of teachers last week, the presence of the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19 here in Ann Arbor, and the continuing high levels of community spread in Washtenaw County."