PRACTICE SAFETY FIRST: OPENING SCHOOLS DURING COVID 19


THE WRITERS MONTHLY: AUGUST 2020 ISSUE

COVER STORY:OPENING SCHOOLS DURING COVID 19

Most intellectually-minded people recognize that opening schools during COVID 19 will be very challenging! There must be careful planning–planning that has as its basic foundation, safety. Children are our future, but in their innocence, trust adults to make decisions that enable them to have a future. Many questions must be answered before the school bells will rang again.

Will children wear masks? Are current buildings adequate for social distancing? Will there be enough rooms that currently house 30 children to social distance with 10? Are there enough teachers to accommodate smaller class sizes? How will one teacher keep children from mingling with other children? Should children be allowed to mingle? Does the federal government have additional funding to assist changes that need to be made? What will the new curriculum look like?

SCHOOL OPENINGS WORLDWIDE

How to effectively fill classrooms and maintain the health of children, staff and other related personnel, must take effect before re-opening occurs. The country hears from the current administration: “Open the schools,” but does not hear, “Here’s a plan that will speak to safety and welfare for all concerned.” This lack of planning and leadership, follows the same pattern that has allowed America to lead the world in COVID 19 affirmed cases and deaths. Currently, with over 4 million cases and over 150,000 deaths, America knows the virus is “not a hoax.” The question becomes, “How do we proceed?” What is happening in other countries that presently, no data proves successful can be a place to begin?

Otto Helve, the pediatric infectious disease specialist of Finland, notes that outbreaks in schools are inevitable, but believes the benefits of attending school seem to outweigh the risks where community infection rates are low and officials are standing by to identify and isolate cases and close contacts.

In Jerusalem, 153 students and 25 staff were infected in late May and early June and in New Zealand, a high school shutdown occurred after 96 people, including students, teachers, staff, and parents were infected. In Toronto, Canada, where a daycare center remained open for essential workers, was closed after flareups.

PROBLEMS OF RE-OPENING IDENTIFIED

The Brookings Institute led a discussion and addressed many problems associated with the re-opening of schools. Brown Center Director Michael Hansen led the discussion among three panelists: Heather Hough, Executive Director of Policy Analysis for California Education, PACE), Daniel Domenech, Executive Director of The School Superintendents Association, AASA), and Emiliana Vegas, Co-Director of Brookings’s Center for Universal Education. Important points from the discussion are:

  • Three Ways to Open Schools: Open schools the Same Way Prior to COVID 19; Viritual or Remote Learning; or a Combination of Virtual Learning and Classroom Student Presence.
  • Panelists Ruled Out One and Two and Favored a Combination Approach.

QUESTIONS RAISED:

  1. How does a district evaluate the needs of children due to non-instruction resulting from school closures?  Many have suffered from abuse, emotional distress, lack of food and proper housing.
  2. How to fund minority households that do not have the internet or individual computers for instruction.
  3. Wealthy districts had the technology and laptops prior to COVID 19 and can “hit the ground running.”
  4. Does a district have all children in-school one or two days and remote learning other days?
  5. Will there be yearlong schooling?  Who funds needed changes?

How will inequities in communities be handled?

SOME STATES ARE REQUIRING OPENINGS WITH NO GUIDELINES

WHO SUFFERS…WHO EVEN CARES?

This article supports opening of schools, but strongly agrees that children should not be used as political tools to enhance one’s election chances. Such thinking is inhumane and utterly disgusting! Parents, teachers community leaders and superintendents should gather together and decide what is best for each community. Before any openings, funding should be in place to bring children back safely and with the best possible ways of meeting their needs.