By: Jack Creeden
Schools and Covid-19: Ready or Not?
It seems that in the last month, the major story on the Internet or in televised newscasts has been about the reopening of schools. Unlike some schools in other parts of the country that returned in July or early August, school leaders in Connecticut at least had most of August to complete our planning efforts. Ready or not, it is time to go back to school in one form or another!
Most school officials and teachers I know have spent the summer developing policies, timetables and multiple schedules to help students get back to school safely, either in person or through an online learning process.
Teaching is Hard. I Miss My Friends
Change seems to be the only constant in our Covid-19 world, and the field of education has not been spared the whiplash that comes with constant change. There are many parents for whom the return to school cannot come soon enough. They spent from March to June serving as teaching assistants for their children while trying to juggle their own work schedules. Parents soon learned that an effective reading or mathematics lesson only happens after a classroom teacher spends hours selecting content, developing strategies, and creatively applying a variety of methods to keep students engaged and actively participating. For those honest enough to say it out loud, by the middle of June parents acknowledged that good teaching is hard work!
Not only did parents and caregivers serve as classroom support staff during the winter/spring, this summer they became camp counselors and recreational program directors as the YMCA, sports camps and a host of in-person summer learning experiences shut down. Parents and students alike yearned for a chance to interact in-person with someone outside the family circle, tightly drawn against invading coronavirus carrying relatives or neighbors. Not much travel outside the pre-established pod has occurred since last March.
Time to Go Back To School – Maybe?
Parents are ready for children to return to school. For some, it is fear of lost academic skills. For others, they worried about eroding social-emotional development. School is not just a place to strengthen literacy and numeracy. It is often the focal point creating a hub of parental and student social activity and fun!
But that desire to return to school is tempered in some families by concerns about the safety and health of children in a school environment. That has prompted a resurgence of interest in online learning, often the target of parental dissatisfaction last Spring. Now it is seen as a safety net against the possible resurgence of the virus.
Both positions are understandable. Those who favor returning to school cite the statistics in Connecticut that indicate positive tests, hospital admissions and deaths due to the virus are well below mandated levels allowing schools to open (for reference see Indicators of COVID-19 supplied by CSDE). With multiple safeguards in place at schools including mask wearing, social distancing, frequent hand washing and improvements in ventilation systems, families believe the risks have been reduced to an acceptable level.
Not all families have confidence in the numbers and emphasize that unpredictable human behavior, a virus that sets its own schedule, and the prospect of having too many students too close together will not mitigate for them the risk ratio. Even the much maligned model of online learning is better than exposing one’s child, siblings, parents and elders to Covid-19.
What’s a Parent To Do?
Every family must make its own assessment of the risk. Here are sone essential questions to ask the school:
• What are the local metrics in terms of positive tests, hospital admissions and deaths?
• What safety precautions has the school taken to increase safety? Are those actions aligned with the CDC and State of Connecticut regulations?
• Are the safety measures “suggested” or “mandatory” for attendance?
• How will the safety precautions be enforced?
• What actions will the school take if Covid is suspected or confirmed?
• Will the school communicate transparently about any suspected illnesses?
• How seriously does the school community take its responsibility to honestly self-report compliance with safety regulations?
It is important that families ask the following questions and discuss with their children (child):
• Are there family members with underlying health conditions that exposure to Covid would seriously aggravate?
• How well have you and your children (child) responded to the changes in life brought on by Covid -19?
• Returning to school will be different. How well have you prepared your children (child) to deal with school in a different format (wearing masks, social distancing, some classes changed)?
• What changes on the social-emotional scale did you observe in your children (child) because of the isolation of the last 6 months? Does returning to school meet an important social-emotional need?
• How did your children (child) do with online learning last spring? Some children loved it. Others did not and missed the social interaction of the classroom.
• If you select online learning, will you need an adult at home to support the child? Middle school and high school students have strong independent learning muscles and can do most assignments on their own. Elementary and pre-school children need adult assistance with distance learning.
Obviously the answers to these questions will vary by family and school. There is no one correct answer. But the questions have the potential to generate thoughtful discussions about school teaching and learning philosophies, individual learning styles, and the social emotional needs of students. Families and school communities will be forced to figure out a way to balance the needs of individuals with the good of the larger community.
One’s individual health and that of one’s family are the highest priority. Simultaneously, how we listen and speak to one another while discussing these questions will also be critical indicators of the health of the community.
Jack Creeden, Ph.D.
Head of School