Can Schools Manage Reopening?

The Washington Post Provides the Federal Document Under Review

Begin here and see how some of these bullet points would play out in your school district. The interim guidance for schools and camps begins on page 4.

Many of the nation’s teachers are already delivering remote instruction as indicated under Phase 1. Instructions for Phase 2 is where life becomes tricky as schools reopen. Remain open with enhanced social distancing measures and for children who live in the local geographic area only.

What does social distancing look like in a school building? A classroom? How long will it take students to get from Point A to Point B, for example if walking down a hall means keeping a six foot distance between students and teachers? Students can only come from a local geographic area, so does that mean no sending students to Vo-Tech?

Safety actions outlined in the document seem reasonable and doable. Instruct students to wash their hands. Hang warning signs. Disinfect buildings. Check the safety of water fountains which have been unused all this time. But then there is this: Ensure ventilation systems operate properly and increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening windows and doors, using fans, or other methods. What are other methods, I wonder.

After reading the document, the biggest obstacles I see address social distancing and limited sharing within classrooms and school buildings. There are so many unanswered questions.

The document suggests keeping a cohort of students together–no mixing of kids. To me that means if kids need pull-out or push-in services, that would be discouraged, especially if teachers are doing small group instruction. What if a student moves into the district once school has started? What happens? The document seems silent on the challenges of serving fragile populations in classrooms. How would districts handle the need for substitute teachers?

Other suggestions:

*Restrict nonessential visitors, volunteers, and activities involving other groups at the same time.

*Space seating/desks to at least six feet apart.

*Close communal use spaces such as dining halls and playgrounds if possible; otherwise stagger use and disinfect in between use.

*If a cafeteria or group dining room is typically used, serve meals in classrooms instead.

For a moment, think about districts whose facilities might be old, like buildings that were built around the time of the last pandemic. Buildings with no elevators. Buildings with no air conditioning. Buildings with small classrooms which would not allow for 6 feet of distancing. What if food service employees have to walk three flights of stairs to deliver meals?

Close the playgrounds? Close the gyms? So many students live for those moments. And those are recommendations for Phases 1 and 2 of reopening.

Phase 3 of social distancing suggestions adds:

*Allow minimal mixing between groups.

*Limit gatherings, events, and extracurricular activities to those that can maintain social distancing, support proper hand hygiene, and restrict attendance of those from higher transmission areas.

*Consider staggering arrival and drop-off times or locations, or put in place other protocols to limit direct contact with parents as much as possible. Continue to stagger arrival and drop-off times and plan to continue limiting direct contact with parents as much as possible.

Does that mean if part of a school’s population comes from a high transmission area those students stay on remote learning? What about students who walk to neighborhood schools with their parents? How can those arrivals be staggered, especially if a building has maybe 600 elementary students? And while the document suggests daycare centers end field trips, there seems to be no direct guidance for K-12 schools.

Here is the list titled Limited Sharing which would apply to all three phases of reopening.

*Keep each child’s belongings separated from others’ and in individually labeled containers, cubbies, or areas.

*Ensure adequate supplies to minimize sharing of high touch materials to the extent possible (art supplies, equipment etc. assigned to a single camper) or limit use of supplies and equipment by one group of children at a time and clean and disinfect between use.

*If food is offered at any event, have pre-packaged boxes or bags for each attendee instead of a buffet or family-style meal. Avoid sharing of foods and utensils.

*Avoid sharing electronic devices, toys, books, and other games or learning aids.

I have seen lots of classrooms which can barely hold educational materials let alone individual containers for every child’s belongings. The concept of sharing will no longer apply, so how do districts provide needed supplies for learning in art classes, music classes, gym class? What kind of disinfecting of computers would need to happen?

Many parents want schools to reopen; I get that. Remote learning brings challenges. Parents will have to return to work once the economy restarts. Will districts be able to carry out these potential guidelines (or will they become mandates) to everyone’s comfort level? Will districts find it easier to continue remote learning?

What seems abundantly clear? These federal guidance depend on what the Covid-19 virus continues to do, and what researchers learn about how to treat the virus. As of this writing, consistent, dependable treatments remain elusive; vaccines have yet to materialize.

When the 2020 school year arrives this fall, school leaders will undoubtedly rise to the challenges. But I predict the challenges will be complicated by decisions beyond the control of school districts. The biggest one: Are parents going to be comfortable sending their children back to school if there is a whiff of Covid-19 still in the air?

Word cloud of covid impact on schools
So many people to think about before opening schools.

One thought on “Can Schools Manage Reopening?

  1. Many of those questions have wandered around my head as well as many of the educator colleagues and friends of mine, We have two custodians for a 900 plus student middle school and with the current budget, we can forget about hiring. The 6 ft desk rule is a joke. I have 28 and one of the smallest rooms and they are almost toughing already! Eating in the classroom is fine, but they have to go there to get lunch and can you imaging how long it would take to go through the line? They get 30 minutes. I want them to go back and I want to go back. The kids are stressed, depressed, overwhelmed and I worry about them. However, when they leave me, I don’t know who they are in contact with, not to mention if I brought the virus to them, Overall, this is scary and we are in a new normal I fear.

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