News Story

Ann Arbor Almost Alone in Refusing To Reopen Schools

350 doctors and psychologists there demand schools reopen; evidence ‘undisputed at this point’

A group of more than 350 Ann Arbor area physicians and psychologists is urging the local public school district to “stand up for science and our children” by committing to a plan to reopen classrooms by March 1.

The evidence that schools can offer in-person learning without jeopardizing the health of students or teachers is “undisputed at this point,” said U-M hospital pediatrician Kimberly Monroe.

Ann Arbor has offered a strictly virtual learning environment since the coronavirus pandemic struck Michigan in March 2020, and it has repeatedly delayed setting a date for reopening.

That, despite near-uniform consensus among public health officials that prolonged shutdowns are causing real harm to students, especially those with special needs or who lack the resources to navigate the virtual-only educational landscape, Monroe said.

“My own experience of seeing the devastation caused by school closure among Ann Arbor’s children has been eye-opening and heartbreaking,” she said.

Ann Arbor is the only district in Washtenaw County with no firm plan to offer in-person learning by March 1 — an aspirational date set by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — the group said in a petition submitted to the district before a Board of Education meeting Feb. 10.

The board and Superintendent Jeanice Swift have said they plan to offer optional, part-time in-person learning for younger children sometime in March, and for older students after April’s spring break.

But no definitive dates have been set.

Another member of the coalition, Dr. Joanna Spencer, said: “It’s time for Ann Arbor to make the rational decision to allow students and families a choice of in-person schooling. There are thousands of successful models around the country that AAPS can follow — what is need now is leadership that is willing to stand up for science and our children.”

Proposals to reopen Ann Arbor schools have been resisted by the district’s teachers union, the Ann Arbor Education Association, which last year suggested schools remain closed until new COVID-19 cases in the region reached zero. More recently, Swift said reopening should wait until all teachers have been vaccinated.

Monroe said she believes the board and district educators “want the best for children.”

But many of them are frightened by the prospect of schools becoming hotbeds of COVID-19 infection, she said. That’s understandable, given the well-known phenomena of virus spread (like the flu) in school settings, Monroe said. But there is now overwhelming evidence that COVID does not present the same threat in schools, she said.

The group of health professionals offers, in its petition to the board, to provide whatever help it needs to structure a safe reopening.

District officials did not respond to a request for comment submitted by phone and email.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.