'Emergency' closings: Ann Arbor schools lack enough staff to run normally

October 27, 2021, 5:22 PM by  Alan Stamm

UpdateSome Ann Arbor Parents Don't
Care for This Superintendent's Tone

Students in all 34 Ann Arbor public schools get an unplanned day off next Monday because "full staffing of operations for that day will present a significant challenge," the superintendent posts Wednesday.

It's the latest evidence that the district is scrambling to fill classroom, cafeteria and maintenance jobs. Its leader used the word "emergency" twice since Friday in messages to parents.

Three schools didn't open Oct. 22 because of "high levels of staff illness and absences across all of the Ann Arbor Public Schools," Superintendent Jeanice Swift told parents the previous evening.

This week began with an even more sudden move: Parents of kindergarten through eight-grade students at a school named A2 STEAM learned Monday morning that it wouldn't open that day. "This is an emergency measure made necessary due to numerous unfilled positions," Swift posted. "Taking this step to remote learning with this school that is most critically impacted by staffing challenges will allow the [district] to redeploy some substitute personnel to assist with the shortage of staff across other buildings."

(Photo: Flickr/Durham School Services)

Her latest announcement Wednesday reflects the pandemic-related reality of vacancies in other fields, such as retailing, hospitality and law enforcement. The leader of Michigan's eighth-largest school district alludes to "a deeper realignment across our wider community and societal system." 

Swift frames the no-classes day Nov. 1, followed by an Election Day holiday scheduled earlier, as a step taken "in the interest of providing a small respite for students and staffs." She adds: "I apologize for any distress this decision may cause."

The "small respite" phrase triggers sharp reactions on an Ann Arbor forum at Reddit, where these are among comments Wednesday afternoon:

  • "My elementary-aged kids have loved in-person school so far. This is definitely not a respite for them or us."

  • "I don't really see how this is a respite? More like a burden on working parents."

Jeanice Swift, superintendent: "District teams ... are stretched thin." (Photo: Ann Arbor Public Schools)

Without details about teaching and support staff vacancies, Swift acknowledges that "district teams ... are stretched thin, addressing daily staffing challenges across all job categories in the organization, as well as shoring up all components of system operations."

The strains of this fall return are not unique to the Ann Arbor Public Schools; they are pervasive in school districts and communities across the country. ...

We are making progress together in sustaining this opening of our Ann Arbor Public Schools. ... The continuing challenges we are experiencing are evidence of a deeper realignment across our wider community and societal system and the complex concerns and changes that this fall return represents.

Earlier this fall, Pittsfield Elementary and Burns Park Elementary in the district "shifted to remote learning due to a high number of Covid-19 student cases and quarantines," the Ann Arbor News says. Its education writer, Marty Slagter, tweets Wednesday that the district had "around 90 unfilled classrooms Friday." He adds in a seven-tweet thread:

The pool of substitute teachers has gotten noticeably smaller, the Washtenaw Intermediate School District told me, which will lead to more shortages like this across the county ... and likely beyond.

At his publication's site, Slagter writes that Ann Arbor's system "has not provided details and has not commented on how many staff members have been absent or what shortages look like across the district."

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