The beginning of the school year is about to start amidst increasing debate on whether to reopen schools. With US COVID case numbers continuing to escalate, school districts are having to balance education and community safety.
On July 7th, US President Donald Trump called for schools to reopen in the fall. Then, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and CDC proclaimed a similar message. Touting concerns regarding student academic regression and student welfare, the CDC has offered guidelines to safely reopen schools. They emphasize the importance of masks, smaller class sizes, frequent handwashing, and social distancing. Limiting interactions is key. This New York Times article, What Back To School May Look Like in the Age of COVID, illustrates ways the school day could look different. Transportation to and from school is one of the biggest logistical challenges. In elementary schools, cohorts of around 12 students would be together all day. For middle and high school students, a study from South Korea has shown that teenagers are just as likely as adults to transit COVID-19. Therefore, staying in one classroom while social distancing is key.
Scientifically, there is not much data to settle the reopening controversy either way. Most schools closed early in the pandemic causing minimal data about transmission within school settings. In the article Why Is There No Consensus About Reopening Schools?, Kim Tingsley writes about the conflicting information coming from experts and news reports. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin estimated the number of infected students that would attend school around the country upon reopening. This information is based on estimated prevalence data from the New York Times database of cases. This information can help schools justify and create the best plan for their community.
Reopening schools is ‘more easily said than done’. Many public school districts were already underfunded prior to the pandemic. In order to properly follow the safety measures, states need more money. These financial resources support the hiring of necessary on-site staff (full-time/part-time/substitute teachers, nurses, food service and janitorial staff), create more space to comply with appropriate social distancing recommendations, and purchase school/cleaning supplies as well as protective equipment for each classroom.
Education will not look the same as pre-COVID. Whereas collaboration and project-based learning had been a major goal within education, now collaborative opportunities will not be available in-person and will require special skills to be effective online. Individual learning will be the mainstay.
Public health officials and school officials must work together to determine what is best for their community. Understandably, many parents are hesitant to accept their children’s return to school. Likewise, many school staff members have valid concerns regarding their own personal well-being this fall. Whether a school decides on in person, online, or a hybrid model, the safety of students, staff, families, and the communities at large are essential.
Here at Cold FAid we continue to learn and understand as much as we can with these essential pressing issues for our communities.