The group “Ann Arbor Reasonable Return” would like the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) to begin making specific plans to bring back small groups of students to in-person classes, particularly for those whose harms from isolation or other factors in association with online learning are greater than possible detriments of COVID.
“It is still prudent that all children who can learn online do so,” Lena Kaufman stated, one of the group’s cofounders. “AAPS has done an admirable job supporting parents who can stay home to help their children with homeschooling and through the technology bond made it possible for every family that wants virtual education to have that option.”
Lena and her husband Jesse Kauffman are parents to an elementary student, a middle schooler, and a high schooler. Lena states now is the time to start seriously planning a safe return to in-person learning for those who may need it most.
“We know from an increasing body of research that schools do not appear to play a major role in community spread, and there is a wealth of research showing that children being out of school for a prolonged time increases other risks, in addition to falling behind in learning, when online education is either not effective or developmentally inappropriate for the child,” Lena added. “These risks include school dropouts, violence against children, teen pregnancies, and socioeconomic and gender disparities.”
Some vulnerable populations that the group is concerned with include those who need specific in-person therapies or have certain disabilities that demand in-person care.
Still, they acknowledge the good work the AAPS has done thus far during this difficult time for teachers, parents, and students.
“Two things are working great. The first is that it is giving every family, regardless of income, the choice to do virtual because they have successfully removed at least the financial barriers to do this,” Anna Hoffman, the group’s other co-founder, described. “Unfortunately, the converse is not true. People with means who want in-person schooling are increasingly moving their children to private schools or other districts that provide this while families without means who may want in-person schooling are not able to have that choice. The second thing that is working well, for taxpayers at least, is the standardization of teaching. Through the Teacher Learning Network, teachers are developing subject-specific online content and sharing it with teachers throughout the district.”
Ann Arbor Reasonable Return is concerned that the cost savings once virtual-only learning is fully implemented for a year could make virtual learning something that never goes away for public school students.
“It is easy to see how, if we don’t push back hard on virtual as an appropriate option for all students, public school of the future could easily be a hybrid option where much of the learning happens through devices at home and students just meet with teachers or aides for support and help,” Hoffman added. “A public education must be accessible and appropriate. We see the virtual-only option as an excellent choice for some families going forward, but it is not accessible and appropriate for all.”
Hoffman also made her group’s intent clearer.
“With the help of scientific experts in the broader Ann Arbor community, we would like AAPS to take a risk-balanced and scientific approach to bringing back small groups of students for whom the risks of continued virtual-only education and services far outweigh risks from COVID-19,” Hoffman said.
According to the group, “Ann Arbor Reasonable Return” has a core group of around 100 members, more than 300 social media followers between Twitter and Facebook, 100 website subscribers on their site, and has received more than 3,000 visits since its launch. The group formed in August as community members, concerned that AAPS was planning a fully virtual year, connected over social media.
According to the group at the time of the interview, many schools at present in Washtenaw County are opened, at least partially, including:
- Chelsea School District
- Dexter Community Schools
- Lincoln Consolidated Schools
- Manchester Community Schools
- Milan Area Schools
- Saline Area Schools
- Whitmore Lake Public Schools
- Ypsilanti Community Schools
- Daycroft School
- Emerson School
- Greenhills School
- Hebrew Day School of Ann Arbor
- Michigan Islamic Academy
- Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor
- Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic School
- Saint Thomas Catholic School
- Gabriel Richard Catholic School
- Saint Paul Ann Arbor
- Summers-Knoll School
Jesse Kaufman echoed the concerns for certain populations to return as well.
“We know it is not learning for many students as most of our group members have children doing the virtual learning program and we get emails every day from parents distraught about how the virtual format is impacting their children,” Jesse Kaufman described. “This is especially true for the parents with IEP and 504 plans. Because we were worried that maybe we were just hearing from a self-selecting group of parents that were having a hard time, we actually went out and did an informal survey through social media of parents whose students had special educational needs. There, too, the comments were overwhelmingly negative, and the survey methods and results are posted on our website.”
Anna Hoffman added that there have been some misconceptions about their group.
“Reasonable Return is sometimes falsely perceived as wanting all children back in school immediately,” Hoffman noted. “We believe every family regardless of income that wants virtual education should have that option through the public schools. AAPS Superintendent Dr. Jeanice Swift uses the analogy of ‘turning a dial”; rather than flipping a switch when she talks about returning to classrooms. We agree with her. Unfortunately, we do not see any movement on her dial. We believe AAPS should prioritize the gradual, phased-in return to learning that was promised in the ReImagine Learning plan.”
AAPS has previously established criteria to bring students back to school in person such as:
- A downward trend in the number of county Covid cases for a 14 day period.
- Less than 3% COVID positivity rate for a 14 day period.
Currently, cases in Michigan and in all 50 states are seeing an increase in COVID cases.
At the time of the submission of this piece, the following schools have returned to remote learning in some capacity due to an increase in recent COVID outbreaks: Bloomfield Hills, Chippewa Valley, Clarenceville, Farmington, Grosse Pointe, Holly, Huron Valley, Pontiac, Rochester, Utica, Wyandotte, and Detroit.
Online/virtual learning has actually been around for over 20 years, and there is ample research that it can be a good alternative for many students, particularly with modifications, but certainly not for all in every instance. A future article will examine what is and is not working for some in current online education.
Full disclosure: Donna Iadipaolo has been an online teacher for 10 years and is currently one at Clonlara School in Ann Arbor. Prior to that, she formally began as a traditional classroom teacher for the public schools in 1993. Iadipaolo has been an educator for over 20 years. She earned her Bachelor’s and three teaching certificates form the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, She also has also earned three graduate degrees: a Master of Arts, a Master of Science, and an Education Specialist degree, within the education fields.