Ann Arbor school district approves plan to start in-person learning part time

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor Public Schools approved a plan Wednesday to bring back K-12 students to classrooms two days a week starting March 25.

The district will keep its virtual learning plan for families who want their child to learn from home. Under the hybrid learning plan, which was approved 6-0 with one board member abstaining, preschool and kindergarten students will be the first to return the week of March 25.

First and second grade students will come back April 5 and grades 3-5 on April 12. Also starting on April 12, the district will bring back "small groups" of students in grades 6-12 in a phased return.

Ben Hale of Ann Arbor hopes schools open by 2025 during the Return to Learn rally at Ann Arbor’s Main Post Office.

Students will be divided into two cohort groups, with one group attending in-person Monday and Tuesday and the other Thursday and Friday. Wednesday is a remote learning day for everyone in the district.

Trustee Ernesto Querijero abstained from the vote over concerns about a possible violation of meeting rules from the noon session. The board is resuming the meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Some Ann Arbor schools parents were angry over the district's decision to remain virtual through January. About 100 other parents, educators and members of the grassroots advocacy group Ann Arbor Reasonable Return rallied for a return to school and had urged the district to abide by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's goal of reopening Michigan schools to in-person instruction by March 1.

Parent Emily Fanelli is happy she can send her two children, Dino, 6, and Lola, 9, into classrooms to meet their teachers for the first time in person.

"I'm excited that they have set some dates. I think they have heard the community is pretty upset," Fanelli said.

Superintendent Jeanice K. Swift said returning to school has always been a when not an "if."

"We are working to reestablish trust and confidence in our schools. I'm asking everyone to join together for the sake of our children," Swift said during the meeting.

Surveys for learning options and transportation will be sent to parents at the end of the week, school officials said.

On Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer escalated her push to get all Michigan school districts to offer in-person instruction, calling it "crucial" and contending that remote-only learning would hamstring the state's economy.

"Working families have been spread too thin over the past year, often taking on the roles of parent, teacher and employee all at the same time," Whitmer said during a press conference. "This is not sustainable.”

On Jan. 8, the Democratic governor called for districts to at least provide an in-person learning option by Monday, March 1. However, there hasn't been a requirement, and some large districts have resisted.

According to the February monthly report issued earlier this week by the Education Policy Innovation Collaborative at Michigan State University, researchers noted that of all Michigan school districts, including public school academies, 83% were planning to offer some form of in-person instruction in February, up from 61% in January and 48% in December.