Potential Plans

Dr. Franklin states, “It is difficult to predict what the COVID-19 landscape will look like in a few months. With businesses opening up, and people headed outdoors for the first time since March, many are scared of a second wave of outbreaks, closures, and further isolation.

However, the opening of schools is one of the keys to opening the economy back up and easing the economic strain on so many people.

School districts around the country are creating plans for students to return to school in the fall. Most of these plans consist of three options: in-person instruction, blended classes, and fully remote learning opportunities.

In reviewing these plans, we must think carefully about what we want the educational experience for students to look like not just in the fall, but in the foreseeable future.”

What Went Wrong With Remote Learning

Nobody was prepared for such a drastic change overnight. Reviews regarding remote learning have been mixed at best.

According to recent federal data, approximately 14% of U.S. families with school-age children lack high-speed internet, leading to issues of equity in communities across the country as students were unable to access remote learning opportunities.

Parents with internet access had to juggle their own workloads while helping their children understand daily math and ELA concepts.

There were also issues with families with multiple children fighting for one shared laptop or tablet to access their school work. Some schools employed an asynchronous learning approach, having students online with their teacher or teachers throughout the day. Other schools used more of an asynchronous learning approach with students and teachers relying heavily on a learning management system for the posting and submitting work.

According to reports, school districts purchased Chromebooks and tablets in bulk at the beginning of the shut down to distribute to students in need. Boston Public School purchased 20,000 Chromebooks in March, while Chicago Public School purchased 37,000 devices, and Los Angeles Unified and New York Schools purchased 150,000 and 300,000 laptops and tablets, respectively. By the end of the school year, large districts such as Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified were reporting online attendance rates for 90% and higher.

What Schools May Look Like In The Fall

Franklin states, “Educators and parents are now breathing a sigh of relief as the 2019-20 school year has come to a close. However, as we look ahead to what is waiting for us in the fall, the recommendations made to open schools by state and local agencies might not be a better option than 100% remote learning.”

So far, these are a few of the recommendations (not laws) that we’ve seen in the education community as of now:

  • AM and PM schedules flip to limit the amount of students on campus
  • Plastic dividers between desks
  • Teachers wear protective gear including face masks or shields
  • Students eat lunch inside the classroom
  • Limited recess with 6-10 children at a time with assigned activities
  • No music, art, or PE classes
  • Frequent hand washing
  • No assemblies
  • Daily temperature check before entering campus
  • Disinfecting decks and materials multiple times per day
  • Student desks in rows, not pods eliminating collaboration opportunities
  • Teachers unable to help individual students at their desks
  • Every other day attendance schedule

This Summer Gives Us Much To Ponder

Franklin also states, “AM and PM schedules can continue to wreak havoc on parents’ work schedules, as this solution will force them to work from home 50% of the time. The same is true with every other day schedule. This idea will also make it impossible for teachers with children to work without accruing the high cost of child care, which is not easily obtainable or feasible.

Also, the plastic dividers between desks and a six-foot-taped perimeter between desks will make schools look like a futuristic prison, rather than a school setting. Additionally, it is impossible to imagine Kindergarten age children to stay six feet away from their friends.

These dividers, attached to desks in a row, also eliminates the opportunity for students to collaborate and work together. The NEA reports that collaborative learning has been shown to develop higher-level thinking skills in students and boost their confidence and self-esteem as well.

Group projects can maximize the educational experience by demonstrating the material while improving social and interpersonal skills. Students learn how to work with various types of learners and develop their leadership skills.

This type of learning will not be possible with barriers and a six-foot distance between students.”

Mental Health

Social isolation over the past few months has led to an increase in mental health issues. Recent research from New York City psychologist Andy Schwehm indicates that children have had increased exposure to domestic violence, isolation, and lack of proper nutrition. Putting them back into a school where they will be socially distanced from their peers might create more trauma.

Our youngest students will not understand why they can’t play with their friends who they haven’t seen in months, even though they are in the same room again. Students will need to eat lunch at their desks, away from their friends, and have a 10-15 minute recess away from everyone else. Furthermore, the protective gear that teachers will have to wear might create a scary environment that some children will struggle to comprehend. Older students could have trouble understanding their teachers due to face masks, shields, and plastic desk dividers.

A Challenging Time For Everyone

We are in the midst of an unprecedented difficult time. There are many unknowns in the world today as we all are trying to get back some sense of normalcy. Our children have suffered during this pandemic.

Schools across the nation were closed, and graduations either canceled or were put online. Understandably, these life milestones took a back seat to global safety concerns.

However, we need some normal in our lives. We crave it.

We also need to be careful about sending our students back to school if it is not a safe, nurturing, and productive environment for both teachers and students.

With the amount of money spent on devices and hot spots for students—along with countless hours spent on professional development for teachers to pivot to online instruction—we might want to wait to put our children back into schools that aren’t equipped or ready to welcome them back.

Dr. David Franklin, CEO of The Principal’s Desk, is an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, and presenter. Dr. Franklin has presented at national and international education conferences as is available for school and district professional development sessions. He can be reached at david@theprincipalsdesk.org or at www.principalsdesk.org.