First a shout out to all of my fellow educators! I may not be in a school setting anymore, since I work for a state education department, but my heart has been with you during this most unusual time. Keep doing your best, as I know all of you are doing, and know your efforts are much appreciated!
As a former principal, April and May was the time of year where I was planning for the closing out the current school year while also preparing for the next school year—wondering who will be leaving, who is coming back, balancing the increased (or often decreased) budget for next year knowing it will change based on enrollment, and hoping the student count doesn’t fall below the threshold to have a full-time PE teacher, nurse, or other personnel.
I’m wondering what school will look like in the fall. The science is telling us there will most likely be another outbreak of COVID-19. We just don’t know how large. How does one prepare for a new year in which it should look much different, but how? Where having 500-5,000 students under one roof, intermingling in class, in the hallways, and while participating in extracurricular activities is now a health hazard.
How does one plan for the natural flow of a school?
Every school and every district has to have a safety plan in place. Every plan I’ve ever had to write has included a plan for a response to a pandemic. The plans are great for a “normal” pandemic. No plan covered a pandemic of such a prolonged length of time.
What questions are state departments of education asking school boards? What questions are school boards asking superintendents? What questions are superintendents asking principals? What questions are principals asking teachers and staff? What questions are parents asking schools? Who is collecting all these questions and how are they being answered?
One thing we can’t do is have class sizes of 10 or fewer due to an already large shortage of teachers. One thing we can’t do is stagger lunch periods to allow for classes to not intermingle because to do so would have students going to lunch right after beginning the school day up until it is time to go home—recess has the same issue (and yes, young students will need recess).
Some questions I have, in addition to the ones asked in another post (What Does Safe Look Like), are about the normal school day and how it will affect schools and the educators working in them. Safety must be paramount in the planning because we are aware children and young adults are dying of COVID-19 in the United States.
I’m going to just say this straight off to get it out of the way. Teaching will be harder until there is a vaccine for COVID-19 due to necessary shifts in how instruction is delivered. Because it will be harder, and schools day might be longer, and hybrid/digital learning will almost have to be a part of teaching, how and when will educators be fairly compensated for this new paradigm. It is hugely unfair and unjust to expect them to make this shift without a substantial increase in salary.
Now to questions about how school will work.
How will students be dropped off in the morning/picked up in the afternoon? Will drop off/pick up be staggered? Will there be more buses to keep rider numbers lower? How will students get to class after being dropped off? When/how will temperatures be taken? Where will students eat breakfast? How many students will be in a class? Will families have the option of continuing digital learning? Will families have the option of receiving packets to complete? Will families have the right and expectation of having clear written instructions on how to teach their children at home? Will cameras be installed in classrooms for students to attend remotely? Will middle and high schools have staggered attendance days where they learn at school on a 3-day/2-day two week rotation with at home lessons are completed on the days not physically on campus? Will schools provide 1:1 devices to all students (K-12), with filters that work both at school and at home, and which must be on the school VPN to access the internet and lessons? How will students in far rural areas or lower income families have WiFi access at home?
Will small group work be prohibited? Will partner work be prohibited? Will the teacher have to provide written scripts of lessons to families? Will teachers be expected to include students attending remotely? Will tables have to be replaced by desks? Will students be expected to remain at their desks for the entire day? Will students wear masks/gloves? Will community supplies go away? Will teachers have to wear masks/gloves? Will all students have a 1:1 device so papers aren’t shared? How often will the class have to be sanitized? Will volunteers be permitted?
Will a student be able to be sent to the office and what will the procedure be? If a student is destroying a classroom, how will other students be escorted out of the room for safety and maintaining social distance? What will the protocol be for a student who is a runner—from classrooms or from campus? How will a student, who becomes physical with another student, be handled in the age of COVID-19? In the rare instance where a student is a severe threat to self-harm or harm others, how will that be handled?
Will all classrooms have a sanitizer dispenser on the wall and continuously filled throughout the day? Will all classrooms have sanitizing wipes provided by the school? If school days are staggered, how will attendance be taken? How will students be held accountable? If staggered, who will be home with students of all ages on the days have to be learning off-campus? Will family/teacher conferences be in-person, telephone or through video conferencing and who decides? What will grading look like, especially at the high school level?
Will there be extracurricular activities that require physicality or closeness, such as football, basketball, wrestling, or marching band? If activities occur, who is liable if a student becomes ill with COVID-19? For sports that are not contact, such as track or tennis, will there be a limit on how many people can participate? Will participants ride a bus to competitions? Will schools have the option not to host a competition as a preventative measure? Will competitions have to be in one location that is sanitized often? What will social distance look like for an extracurricular activity?
We, families, entrust schools with our children. We put our faith in people, systems, and protocols to keep our children safe. Our expectation is our children will come home as well as when we sent them, and hopefully a little smarter than the day before.
As a parent, I’d like to know the above questions have been asked, and many others, and those answers made public to the community, before schools are reopened in the fall.
I personally, and I believe most families would agree, that we don’t want our children to come home with an illness which might lead to their death.
What questions would you add?