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More Pressure to Re-open Schools

Health professionals jostle with teachers for vaccine priority.

by Trilby MacDonald and John Hilton

Published in February, 2021

Supporters of school reopening ramped up pressure on the AAPS in February, with psychologists joining physicians in calling for classes to resume by March 1, as recommended by Governor Whitmer. In January, the district announced a goal to begin a phased-in "hybrid" return starting in early March, but with caveats about the severity of the pandemic and progress on vaccination and testing. Nearly 400 professionals have signed the open letter and petition, which asserts that in-person instruction can be done safely before teachers are vaccinated.

What will have to happen for classrooms to re-open? "I feel, and I would think it's shared with most people, that school staff having the opportunity to be immunized will be the key factor," emails AAPS trustee Jeff Gaynor, "unless case rates come down earlier, or if somehow cases rise sharply, even after vaccinations. Note that in the last week or two, including today, while Michigan rates are declining, Washtenaw County has among the highest case rates in the state."

According to MISchoolData, out of 587 districts in Michigan, 291 were fully virtual in January, down from 400 in December. While the Governor moved teachers into Phase 1-B of the vaccine rollout, that decision "did not necessarily take into account local vaccine supplies," says Washtenaw County Health Department spokesperson Susan Ringler-Cerniglia. She acknowledges teachers and families are frustrated that "guidance at the state level did not prioritize [teachers] over other people in Phase 1-B," but part of the reason for the delay in vaccinating teachers is the high number of healthcare workers in the county, who had under state guidance had priority for vaccination.

"We've started with school employees in special education and self contained classrooms, based on that role and risk that's much more like a healthcare worker," Ringler-Cerniglia says."Now we are starting to bring in teachers that are older adults. But the number of spots available is vaccine dependent."

AAPS non-contact sports have been competing since mid-January, though without

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spectators, and the schools announced this week that contact sports will also resume. They'll observe Michigan Department of Health and Human Services guidelines, including rapid antigen testing and in-game masking for basketball and hockey players.

One Skyline student even broke record this year - though not in Ann Arbor. At an American Track League meet in Fayetteville, Arkansas on Sunday, Hobbs Kessler ran a mile in 3:57.66, the fastest indoor mile ever by a high school runner.

With sports cancelled and school online, "there's nothing to do but run," the seventeen-year-old senior told He's got plenty of support at home: his father is Skyline's boys cross-country coach, and his mother is its head track coach.     (end of article)

[Originally published in February, 2021.]


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