Returning to School: 2021-2022 Overview
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.'” – Jeremiah 29:11-13
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” – John 14:3
We are grateful that we were in-person for all of the 2020-2021 school year without missing a single day! We are still enrolling for 2021-22 and still have some spaces available. Don’t delay and start your enrollment process with a school tour.
As we did last year, we continue to be committed to making informed, reasonable, and smart decisions that are not fearful or lax and to make the best out of extraordinary circumstances. We put our full faith in our loving and sovereign God and ask for His guidance as we use our God-given minds and hearts to hear His leading and to continue to be the best school we can be. We are committed to and believe that in-person schooling is the best experience for a child’s overall health and education.
Please return often for updates.
FAQ's - Scroll down and click question (updated September 10, 2021 at 1pm)
These FAQs describe our thinking behind our opening, our current practices, and any changes that may be required during the pandemic. In addition to our ongoing communications, we will continue to update this FAQs section. As we learn more, we will update answers as quickly as we can. As always, you may reach out to the school with questions. Also, you can click here to see our COVID-19 Dashboard.
Please click a question below to see the answer:
• SCHOOL MISSION & COMMITMENT
Why is in-person schooling your primary plan?
In short, we believe that in-person schooling is the best experience for a child’s overall health and education. We successfully held in-person school in 2020-2021 and will resume that success into 2021-2022.
What are some differences between private schools and public schools during the pandemic?
- Due to their sheer size, wider demographics, broader equality concerns, transportation issues, and host of other issues to address that do not affect smaller private schools, many public schools had a much harder time offering or maintaining in-person. These same factors will make their reopening more complicated.
- Due to our smaller size, private schools generally have been able to adapt much quicker than our public school neighbors and have been able to move forward with our curriculum. Naturally, even private schools face challenges today, but private schools are in the position to be more nimble and to adapt faster.
- As a result, as you read about reopening plans from local school districts, please know that they may not resemble AACS’ plans. The scale of public schools creates different constraints on their reopening options.
- At the same time, AACS remains committed to being open safely, and we have the right precautions in place to aid in that effort and will make adjustments as needed.
Are you still able to do chapel? Chapel families?
Absolutely. Worship is core to our school’s identity. We plan to find creative and safe solutions in order to make sure corporate worship remains present at AACS, including moving chapel to the gym. We have installed a new projector and speakers in the gym to help facilitate chapels and other large gatherings.
Chapel families are also a beloved aspect of our chapel experience, and we are seeking creative solutions to redesign this experience so it remains part of our community.
Will there be parent volunteering (POP system) this year?
Having parents active in the life of the school has always been part of our DNA, and we will continue having a good degree of parent volunteering at AACS, including things that can be done from home. We believe we can responsibly manage volunteering to keep parents active in the life of AACS and to help meet important needs to operate the school (e.g., recess supervision, IT Committee).
What can families do to help?
- Pray and maintain a hopeful attitude centered on the living hope that is from God.
- Encourage the staff, teachers, and each other.
- Talk to your doctor about the COVID-19 vaccines.
- Talk to your children about how we will talk with and love families with different views about COVID-19, including choices around masks and vaccines.
- Reinforce good hygiene at home, such handwashing and coughing/sneezing into elbows.
- Stay home if you have any symptoms at all and see your pediatrician.
• HEALTH POLICIES & PROCEDURES:
How does AACS consider COVID-19 health recommendations?
National and local health officials have provided general and broad recommendations for how to open the school year. For recommendations, schools are asked to weigh them carefully within their specific context to see what makes the most sense. This gives schools some discretion and freedom to make decisions based on their particular situation. At the same time, the school will follow any health orders or mandates that may be issued later. We have confirmed with the Michigan Association of Non-Public Schools (MANS) that private schools must legally follow any health orders or mandates that may come in the future.
Working with a group of thoughtful doctors from within our school community who work with the pediatric population, Ann Arbor Christian carefully weighed all recommendations and these criteria in our decision-making process:
- Considers the overall components of a child’s health, development, and well-being, such as speech/language development and the important role of facial expressions in communication and relationship-building between students and adults and between students. These are considerations that schools uniquely need to weigh.
- Is reasonable and moderate
- Works off more specific local data, including vaccination rate of county and within the AACS community
- Is medically sound
- Allows our teachers to work with children and their developmental needs to the best of their abilities
- Considers multiple perspectives
- Tries to separate media inconsistencies and hype, as well as politics, from our best understanding of reality and facts
- Uses our intelligence and common sense to fill in the unknowns as best as we can while ready to adjust
Our protocols are subject to change as the pandemic evolves. The school will continuously monitor local metrics and new scientific information as it becomes available. We hope last year showed that we strive to make decisions with care, even if imperfectly. We appreciate everyone’s understanding, graciousness, and prayers as we continue to navigate a fluid landscape. Our protocols also assume that the vaccines are very effective against the delta variant, and, contrary to excessive media coverage, breakthrough cases of vaccinated individuals are very uncommon.
Will grades be cohorted?
- Indoors: Yes, grades will be generally cohorted to minimize any possible cross-grade transmission. For the few cross-grade activities (e.g., middle school advisory groups, chapels), masks will be worn by all.
- Outdoors: No cohorting is needed.
- We hope this is temporary since we also believe in the great value of our students interacting across grade levels.
Will there be any distancing?
- As a general rule, 3-ft will be our new distancing standard for most classroom situations, while recognizing that there will be times in which being closer together is educationally important (e.g., reading or math group).
- Most of our classrooms can accommodate desks spaced up to 6-ft apart if needed, so 3-ft is very doable. We continue to discuss how to best implement this by each grade level.
- Outdoors, distancing is generally not needed.
Are masks being required at AACS?
UPDATED 9/2/21: Washtenaw County Health Department has issued a mask mandate for schools effective September 7, 2021. While this mandate is in effect, the plan below is temporarily suspended.
Yes and no. As you read below, we have a balanced solution that is a hybrid of mask-optional and mask-required. When needed, acceptable masks include those made of at least two layers of cloth and disposable medical masks and should be well-fitted (e.g., a child should not wear an adult mask). Masks that are very sheer or porous and gaiters are not considered acceptable.
- Fully vaccinated individuals (adult or student who are two weeks past their last required shot; having COVID-19 does not count as being vaccinated) do not need to wear a mask with some exceptions: Masks will be needed in cross-grade community gatherings (e.g., chapels), and masks may be required if community spread is very high or if vaccines are shown to be not sufficiently effective against new variants. Given the fluid nature of the pandemic, we will work with WCHD and our medical team to determine this when need arises.
- Unvaccinated individuals will be required to wear a mask until the developments described in the next bullet point occur.
- Masks will become optional for everyone within a grade level eight weeks after the vaccine becomes available for the grade level. Currently, only students 12 and older (essentially rising 7th and 8th graders) can be vaccinated. Based on a recent survey, we project that at least 70% of our middle schoolers will be fully vaccinated over the course of the new school year. When the vaccine is authorized for younger students, the school will wait eight weeks to make masks optional for everyone in those grades. This allows three weeks for families seeking vaccination for their children to arrange for their child’s first shot and five more weeks for fully vaccinated status to be reached. According to WCHD, while it does not know the month, we anticipate Pfizer to be the first authorized vaccine for younger children sometime this fall. (Note: We estimate that over 75% of our parent population is vaccinated as well, and 96% of the staff is vaccinated.)
- Because the 7th and 8th graders generally have had the opportunity to be vaccinated, those grades will be mask optional at the start of the year, regardless of vaccination status. However, if local COVID transmission increases, then masking may be required for all grades, regardless of vaccination status. For sixth graders, since they will turn 12 at various times, we will likely identify a date in which 70% of the 6th grade are eligible for vaccination to make masks optional for the grade. Details will come soon.
- Students with clearly documented medical (from child’s doctor) or learning needs (e.g., formal IEP, 504 plan, and/or confirmed by AACS staff) are allowed to wear a face shield or exempted from any face coverings, depending on their unique circumstances. For such a request to be made and considered for approval, families should contact the curriculum director, who will review the request and may contact the doctor with any questions.
- If local COVID positivity rate decreases below 5% before the vaccine is available to younger students or if the county drops below “substantial” again, we may revisit our mask policy for the younger grades.
- There is no plan for AACS to mandate COVID-19 vaccination, and it is not currently a state-mandated vaccine. If the state added the COVID-19 vaccination onto its list of mandatory vaccines for children attending school, families who do not wish to vaccinate should speak to their pediatrician about any state-approved exemption or waiver process.
- At school and at home, we will be encouraging active conversations about different choices that families may make about mask wearing when it becomes optional and to make sure we are respectful and understanding. Fortunately, students are now more accustomed to masks and are used to seeing different choices being made by peers (e.g., classmates who wore masks for outdoor recess).
- If the county moved into the “high” CDC classification for community transmission, WCHD has indicated that it would likely issue a mask mandate for all county schools. With the county’s high vaccination rate, WCHD hopes this will not happen.
- Teachers are allowed to use a clear face mask approved by the local health department and that is used by physicians and medical interpreters who care for patients with hearing loss at UofM.
- A traditional face shield does offer protection, but it is not considered an acceptable substitute for a face mask due to the larger air gaps.
- When needed, acceptable masks include those made of at least two layers of cloth and disposable medical masks and should be well-fitted (e.g., child should not wear an adult mask). Masks that are very sheer or porous and gaiters are not considered acceptable.
- A non-medical face mask with a valve or port is not acceptable since it actually exhales more air than other masks with limited filtration. The two purposes of a face mask are to reduce respiratory droplets coming from the wearer and to reduce inhalation of droplets by the wearer. A N95 mask with a port or valve is acceptable because it is a medical-grade mask with the proper filter.
- Face masks are a temporary reality of the pandemic. We will regularly reassess our face mask policy.
What screening procedures are in place as people enter the building?
We are asking all students and visitors to complete a one-question screening form (no temperature check will be needed this year, according to the county health department) to gauge their health. This involves a simple online form that parents should quickly complete in the morning before arriving at school.
Every morning, the office will confirm that screening has been completed. If any students were accidentally not screened at home, they will be sent to the office for screening.
Any symptoms do require not coming to school or returning home.
What safety items/gear do we need to get for our child?
- Face masks: We ask every student to purchase a set of washable or disposable facial coverings. Even vaccinated students will need to wear a mask for cross-grade activities.
- Our school’s Lands End store also now has face masks with the school logo. While the school has disposable masks, it is helpful if each student has a spare mask at school or in their backpack.
- Hand sanitizer (optional): A student can bring a small bottle of hand sanitizer (with name on it) for their personal use and to keep it at school. The school will have plenty of classroom and hallway sanitizers.
What if there is a positive confirmed case of COVID-19 at school?
As required by law, we will immediately notify the county health department, and the positive case will need to quarantine immediately.
The positive case will need to go home to isolate and speak with their PCP for further instructions.
People who meet certain criteria for extended contact with the person will likely be notified as part of the contact tracing by AACS. Parents: Please see the scenario/decision table on Veracross.
IMPORTANT: A confirmed positive case does not automatically mean the entire class needs to be quarantined or tested. The school will determine who it believes needs to be quarantined or tested. Currently, the guideline for extended exposure is defined as more than 15 minutes (within the day) and less than 3-ft apart.
In addition, WCHD works closely with other counties and share a COVID-19 database with them, so they are prepared to deal with AACS members who live other counties.
Due to privacy laws, we will not identify who the positive case is. Being a small school, AACS would ask our community to hold conversations that respect privacy and show love and compassion. Social media or sharing sensitive information with your children should not happen to respect sensitive information and to avoid spreading potentially inaccurate information.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of reported symptoms – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms can include:
- Fever or chills (100.4 F or higher)
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
This list does not include all possible symptoms, and children and youth with SARS-CoV-2 infection may experience any, all, or none of these symptoms. The main means of transmission still seems to be inhalation of respiratory droplets.
If a child is sick, what are the protocols for returning to school? Where can we get tested?
We know that children can get sick for a million reasons, but some extra precautions need to be exercised, especially if a particular symptom or combination of symptoms of COVID-19 are present.
The general guidelines are:
- If a child became sick at school, he/she would be brought to the office for a parent to come to pick-up.
- The child may return to AACS if they meet health department criteria for a safe return or receive alternative diagnosis by a pediatrician. Parents: Please see the scenario/decision table on Veracross.
Will there be any kind of antigen testing?
- For some indoor sports, we might conduct weekly antigen testing.
- We are also considering other useful antigen testing options.
How will quarantines be handled? How will extended absences be handled this year?
Since most cases did not lead to infection, the county health department has loosened quarantine protocols to reduce the missing of school days due to close contact situations when there are no symptoms. Quarantines due to close contact was the biggest issue that schools generally had to manage last year. Parents: Please see the scenario/decision table (yellow button) on Veracross for more details.
Long-term absense due to non-COVID reasons: This will be determined on a case-by-case basis by the teachers with the curriculum director. As a general rule, school work is not provided for vacations taken outside of normal school breaks.
Long-term due to COVID-19 infection or close contact exposure:
- Parents: Please see scenarios E and G on the decision/scenario table on Veracross.
How to report a confirmed positive case or confirmed close contact case to AACS?
On your parent Veracross homepage is a red button to report if you or a household member has been tested positive for COVID-19 or are a known close contact to someone with COVID-19. It will trigger a new email window. Please compose your message and send it. Messages sent via this button will be emailed and texted to several staff members so we can follow up. During the school day, you can also still call the office. In both situations, per health department protocols, you should stay home in quarantine. IMPORTANT NOTE: This button is NOT for general sickness or absence questions. It is only for a CONFIRMED positive or close contact case.
• SCHEDULE & SPACE QUESTIONS:
Has the daily schedule changed in any way?
Currently, our basic schedule is generally the same, such as same arrival and dismissal times, but may adjust some internal schedules, such as recess times and transition times, to avoid larger crowds.
What does arrival and dismissal look like?
They will basically be the same as last year (parents, refresher video to be sent). We have implemented the most effective way to manage these two times of the day that avoid large crowds and not consume too much time.
Arrival: We are using three entries into the school to reduce cross traffic and congestion. Adults are at each entry. We are currently asking parents to screen their children by filling out a simple online form before arriving to school. When students arrive, we confirm that they have completed the screening.
Once in the building, students go to their homeroom (no morning gym time). For the first days of school or in special circumstances, we may allow for some parent entry during arrival or dismissal (e.g., first days for new preschool or kindergarten students) to address their emotional care.
Dismissal: Classes are staggered before dismissal to their lockers to pack up their belongings. Students remain in their classrooms and are called to the dismissal doors via the intercom system. For early pick-ups (e.g., doctor appointment), please come to the office.
Are water fountains accessible?
Yes and no. We have installed six new water fountains that have bottle-refilling stands. Students may use those stands to fill their personal water bottles, but the mouth-drinking portion will be disabled. As a result, students should bring a personal water bottle every day. Personal water bottles should be labeled and not shared.
What does recess look like?
- Masks and distancing are not required outside.
- For preschool-Grade 1, they have developed a schedule to use the south side playground.
- For grades 2-5, the students will use the north side play area.
- For middle school, the students will use the north side play area.
How is interior air being managed? Are classes held outside?
- When weather conditions are appropriate and there are no medical concerns (e.g., allergies), we open windows as much as possible to bring in fresh air.
- Our HVAC systems are set to FAN ON so that air is constantly moving.
- In addition, we have installed new air purification systems designed to kill many pathogens in the air and on surfaces. While no system can remove all pathogens, these filters add an important layer of protection and mitigation to our building while also providing our school members with greater peace of mind.
- In addition, we have pitched a few large 20’x20′ tents outside. As cold weather sets in, they have been taken down until the spring.
• SPECIALS CLASSES QUESTIONS:
Will there be PE and sports?
As we did last year, we still have physical education, but some of the activities may look different to meet guidelines or be outside more.
At this point, fall sports will happen. We are waiting for our league’s athletic directors to talk and to see what further guidelines come from the Michigan High School Athletic Association, an organization that helps to establish sports guidelines for schools in Michigan.
• EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES QUESTIONS:
Will there be extracurricular activities?
We would love to somehow make some of these happen, so please come back soon for more details. We understand that extracurriculars add to the life of the school and make us richer, but, at the same time, maintaining in-person schooling at AACS as much as possible is our first priority. We believe we can bring back some extracurriculars (please see above for sports).
• CLEANING & DISINFECTING QUESTIONS:
What cleaning/disinfecting procedures are in place?
Note: Touch is not a significant way that COVID-19 is transmitted, but we believe in good, basic hygiene.
- Students are asked to wash and/or sanitizer their hands at key and logical times of the day, such as around snack and lunch time.
- Proper hand washing techniques will be reviewed. Parents can reinforce this at home as well.
- Proper techniques for managing sneezing and coughs (e.g., into elbows or tissue) will also be reinforced with students and staff.
- Indoors, classes are cohorted as much as possible, which is fairly easily done at a school of our size.
- Every classroom and common space (e.g., gym, library, copier room, staff lunchroom) has hand sanitizer.
- We have free-standing sanitizer dispensers inside the school at strategic, high-traffic/touch locations (e.g., main entry points, main office).
- All classrooms and common spaces (e.g., library) in the building have paper towels and a spray bottle of EPA/CDC-approved disinfectant solution.
- All classrooms have paper towels and tissue.
- All elementary classrooms (except 2nd grade) have a sink with soap.
- All restrooms have soap and paper towels.
- We have protocols for disinfecting high-traffic surfaces throughout the school day (e.g., door handles, restrooms, classroom sinks, desk surfaces, and microwaves).
- When weather conditions are appropriate and there are no medical concerns (e.g., allergies), we open windows as much as possible to bring in fresh air.
- Our HVAC systems are set to FAN ON so that air is constantly moving.
- In addition, we have new air purification systems designed to kill many pathogens in the air and on surfaces. While no system can remove all pathogens, these filters add an important layer of protection and mitigation to our building while also providing our school members with greater peace of mind.
- In addition, we have pitched a few large 20’x20′ tents outside to further encourage classes to be outside when possible. As cold weather sets in, they have been taken down until the spring.
- Our B&G staff regularly check the refill status of soap and sanitizer.
- Generally, student desks and workspaces are spaced 3 feet apart.
- Visitors, including parents, are not allowed unless for pre-determined reasons. They may also be asked to wear PPE and screened.
- With the help of adult supervision, our arrival and dismissal procedures have been designed to reduce congestion and cross-grade contact.
- When applicable, desk surfaces are disinfected between classes.
• STUDENT SUPPORT QUESTIONS:
Is the school doing anything around emotional health for the students?
Yes. This is very important to us in our care of our students. We should not underestimate the mental and emotional toll that the pandemic has put on all of us. In fact, AACS will be receiving additional training for the staff so that we can better care for and love our students as we continue to live through our COVID-19 reality. Beyond the pandemic, this training is part of a larger school initiative to support the socio-emotional well-being of our students in an increasingly complicated world.
We are also looking into partnership with professionals, which is actually an initiative that the school’s capital campaign will help make a reality. As part of her role as spiritual life coordinator, Becky Johnson is the point person for mental health support as we develop these services.
What is the school's position on the COVID vaccines?
We understand your love for your children. We are encouraging all parents to get as educated as possible in order to make an informed decision about the COVID vaccine for their children. That is why we are urging parents to speak with their PCPs.
We anticipate the vaccine to be available to most children under 12 this fall. Our protocols also assume that the vaccines are very effective against the delta variant, and, contrary to excessive media coverage, breakthrough cases of vaccinated individuals are very uncommon.
As a school, while we do believe that the vaccines are safe and effective, we do not plan to mandate vaccination against COVID-19. In addition, it is not currently a state-mandated vaccine. However, if the state added the COVID-19 vaccination onto its list of mandatory vaccines for children attending school, families who do not wish to vaccinate should speak to their pediatrician about any state-approved exemption or waiver process.
Are visitors allowed?
AACS wishes to remain a welcoming place while following guidelines. Many visitors will be allowed, but the purpose of their visit will be a factor in each decision. Permitted visitors maybe asked to wear appropriate PPE and to be screened.
Does middle school still have its advisory system?
Yes, we still have this core part of our middle school experience that builds community and many critical life skills. Since groups are small, many students are vaccinated, and some will be wearing masks, we believe this is safe to continue as we did last year.
Is there still the Extended School Program (ESP)?
Yes. Since the program has been very small, this is easy to manage. All students in ESP are required to wear masks. We limit the number of students to keep the size small (10-12).
If the state or health department requires AACS to return to remote learning, what would it look like?
Currently, the state and county have given no indication that they are even considering mandating virtual-only options for schools. In fact, all major health organizations, including the CDC and American Academy of Pediatricians, are strongly encouraging students to be in in-person school for their overall health and development.
In the unlikely event of being mandated to only have virtual learning:
Building on what we have learned since the start of the pandemic, we plan to instruct remotely every day (except Wednesday, which will be a flex day for chapel, specials, middle school advisory time, one-on-one time with teachers, and other needs) using daily instruction time on Zoom (e.g., 2-3 developmentally-appropriate sessions per day for each elementary grade) and the use of two main learning platforms (Google Classroom and Seesaw) for both asynchronous and synchronous learning. School Chromebooks would be loaned to any families who need extra computers.
In addition, school work would be posted by at least 5pm the night before, if not sooner, and weekly class newsletters on Mondays will provide an overview of the week. For educational reasons, we intentionally will not list a week’s worth of work at once in order to encourage healthier, paced learning and to have room to make adjustments as needed.
In addition, paper-based materials, such as textbooks and workbooks, would be distributed, as well as biweekly distribution of other paper-based materials (e.g., copied packets) and learning manipulatives (e.g., math blocks).
Why is Zoom time important?
- Teacher interaction is critical to our mission.
- Live instruction allows for interaction between students and teachers. It provides feedback for teachers to gauge understanding and to plan for student and class needs.
- It builds community.
- It allows for discussion and interaction.
- It supports social-emotional learning.
- It builds continuity with in-person school.
- We will also have more small group time on Zoom for targeted learning, open office hours to connect with teachers, and record Zoom sessions.
How is AACS virtual different than homeschooling?
If AACS was required to return to virtual learning, our teachers will continue to:
- Plan instruction
- Provide materials
- Follow specific methodology for various curriculum that will continue when we return to in-person instruction
- Evaluate student work
- Continuity with classroom experience/Scope and Sequence of learning
- Work with our curriculum director to follow and pace curricular standards and expectations
- Interact with classmates and classroom experiences
- Continued community experience and the AACS mission