Michigan Parents Raise Money To Challenge School Board Decision Not To Reopen Schools This Year
Close up of a young boy studying and doing homework using his laptop
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Schools in Ann Arbor, Michigan, have been closed since March 2020, providing only virtual classes since.

This week, the Ann Arbor School Board discussed possibly reopening schools in a “lengthy and thoroughly confusing discussion,” according to MLive. The discussion ended with a motion that would keep the majority of the city’s students confined to virtual learning through the end of the school year.

“The motion’s wording was changed at least a half dozen times during more than an hour of discussion over what its ramifications were, ending with a 5-2 vote at the Feb. 17 meeting directing Superintendent Jeanice Swift to present a plan to the board next week for allowing instruction to remain virtual for the remainder of the 2020-21 year, with the exception of serving those with the greatest needs,” MLive reported.

This decision took the board nearly five-and-a-half hours to accept. The approved motion, according to the outlet, reads:

Redirect Dr. Swift to make a recommendation to modify our current school plan to allow instruction to remain virtual to the end of the school year, with the exception of serving those with the greatest needs (as clarified by our superintendent and school administrators) who would return to school by March 22, 2021. The implementation of this modified plan will be presented, discussed and voted upon by Feb. 24, 2021.

The board spent hours going back and forth on the idea that at least some students should return to in-person learning. Ultimately, however, that plan did not come to be.

“We have chosen to take a safe route and by taking the safest route we have pushed out our date because we have been waiting for other things to happen,” said board trustee Susan Baskett. “What I’m trying to encourage is making sure that we know we’re going to bring some kids in and the rest of the kids will remain virtual for the end of the school year.”

Board member Jessica Kelly voted against the motion, insisting it guaranteed that most students wouldn’t return to in-person learning this school year.

“I can’t support it if we’re making a motion that has that kind of radical impact on that many people, sets a date without regard to the metrics that we previously adopted, without even regard to conversation of those metrics that we previously adopted,” Kelly said, according to MLive. “I’m going to call it radical, because it is radical for tens of thousands of people.”

The motion prompted parent group Ann Arbor Reasonable Return to start a GoFundMe page to raise money to hire attorneys to legally challenge the school board’s decision. The group has been advocating for a safe approach to reopen schools, one that school board has continuously denied. The group started the fundraiser after the school board meeting, seeking $30,00 to hire a law firm. The money was raised in less than 24 hours.

“Good news! Thanks to your generosity, we have been able to retain the services of the distinguished law firm of Bodman PLC. Our attorneys there are already hard at work! More updates to follow,” the fundraiser’s organizer wrote on GoFundMe.

On Friday, the organizer thanked those who donated:

Thank you so much to our wonderful community! We are beyond humbled and grateful how quickly our goal was met. There are real children on the other side of the virtual learning screens that thought they were returning to school by March 1, as Governor Whitmer urged. They are confused and sad having already heard from their teachers about a hybrid plan that now may not happen. That is why it means so much to be able to point this and show them how much people really care about them. We will leave the fundraiser up for now as we will certainly have additional needs down the road, especially if the PAC identifies and supports candidates for school board in the next election. However, at this time, we have met our immediate need and look forward to sharing more details soon about next steps and our legal team. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

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