News Story

Ann Arbor Schools: No Reopening Without Teacher Vaccinations

Parent says need 'ways to reopen now, not another reason to stay closed’

Ann Arbor Public Schools officials say they are unlikely to meet Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s call to return to some form of in-person instruction by March 1. They cite a need for nearly all teachers to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.

Establishing vaccinations as a prerequisite for a return to the classroom, announced Jan. 13 by Superintendent Jeanice Swift, reverses a position she had taken only a month ago.

“While we had not planned ... to await the vaccine, we did not understand for sure how quickly that would be coming,” Swift said Jan. 13. “Now that we understand the vaccine is here, it seems in the best interest of safety and of health for our teachers to be able to have their vaccine appointments.”

On Dec. 16, Swift said: “We said from the beginning that we are not awaiting the vaccination, and we are not.”

Although Swift did not set any firm dates for resuming classroom instruction, she said a small number of young and special needs students might be given that option in early March. Older students might be offered a hybrid format after spring break in April, she said.

The announcement was met with disappointment and frustration by some parents who have urged the district to establish a clear path for the return of in-person learning. It is, they said, both safe and vitally necessary for the educational and emotional health of schoolchildren.

Parent Mike Shriberg, as quoted by the Ann Arbor News, said the latest district re-opening plan is “vague and continues to move the goalposts for return with little regard for public health and the wellbeing of children. Under this plan ... the best case scenario is that my children would have 20 optional days of in-person school over a 17-plus month period.”

Ann Arbor schools adopted a virtual learning-only program in March 2020. Swift and the Board of Education have resisted calls from a group called Ann Arbor Reasonable Return to establish clear guidelines for a return to the classroom as soon as possible.

Separately, a group of 130 Ann Arbor-area medical professionals issued a statement late last year, which in part: “Each additional day that passes without kids in school inflicts harm that will persist well beyond the pandemic.”

The resumption of classroom education has been opposed by the district’s teachers union, the Ann Arbor Education Association, which last year suggested that in-person learning be delayed until the number of new COVID-19 infections in the region reached zero.

Lena Kauffman, an Ann Arbor parent and co-founder of A2R2, said the district’s latest decision stands in contrast to Whitmer’s proposed March 1 school reopening timetable.

At a news conference last week, Whitmer said “incredible progress” had been made in getting teachers vaccinated. But the March 1 target for starting up in-person learning again didn’t rely on universal vaccination.

“We have learned that we can pursue in-person instruction safely,” she said. “We have a lot of schools ... that have been successful (with on-site education) even before vaccines were imminent.”

Kauffman said Ann Arbor, as one of “most well-resourced districts ... in the state,” is capable of offering safe, in-person options for parents and students. “This is becoming a crisis. We need to look for ways to reopen now, not another reason to stay closed.”

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.