For most districts, August will usher in the 2020-2021 school year. That means there remains just a few short weeks for districts and charter schools to work out their plans on resuming school safely.
First, we must acknowledge that schools will have outbreaks of COVID-19. It most certainly is going to happen. The goal is by taking reasonable steps that the clusters occur in handfuls and not in hundreds. If the beginning of school this year looks more or less the same as opening day last year, we are doing something dangerously wrong.
The following are practical measures that can be taken beginning with steps that require no/little money followed by steps that will take an investment and ends with some serious conversations on high-risk activities communities need to discuss.
Switching to a block A/B schedule with half the students attending each day will allow schools and classrooms to better implement social distancing guidelines.
We need to find a way to provide food safely. Whether it is eating outside weather permitting and/or staggering lunches to provide for social distancing, districts will need to be creative in scheduling ways to avoid the traditional mass of students for breakfast and lunch.
The practicality of implementing face masks in primary schools is debatable, but there is no reason why they should not be mandated at the secondary level unless there is a medical exemption. Physical distancing and masking are the two most important steps we can take to prevent spread and transmission.
Temperature and symptom screening checks should be implemented prior to entering the buses and school buildings with a procedure in place for the eventuality of a student having a fever, cough, etc.
The presence of face tissue and disinfectant wipes should not be dictated any longer by which teachers are willing to purchase these out of their own wallets. For far too long many teachers have been responsible for providing these personally.
If a teacher has any possible symptoms, they should be staying home. But most districts in the state suffer from a shortage of substitute teachers. If teachers and staff are ordered to quarantine, we must have enough substitute staffing or the school will be forced to close.
We need to be prepared for another possible distance learning period due to an outbreak at school. Equity in internet access for rural communities and low-income families needs to be a priority.
We need to have a serious conversation on continuing certain activities this school year. This won’t be a popular position, but it needs to be said: Not all sports are created equal for COVID-19.
Throwing the ball around from yards apart on a softball field does not carry the same outbreak risk as wrestlers climbing, breathing, and sweating on each other and the shared mat. I don’t believe sports are an “all or nothing approach.” Let us assess the inherent risks in each.
Ditto courses which inherently have a high number of students in the same room. For example, multiple choirs across the country have been linked to “super-spreader” events. We need to find a safe way for these programs to continue.
This, obviously, is not a complete list. But I believe that implementing these practical steps is a genuine starting point to safely allow our students and staff to resume this fall while protecting the health of those in the building and the community supporting our work.