– Dan Jones –
Since March, remote learning has become our new normal, but there is nothing normal about it. We all desperately want to get back to normal, but the truth is, normal may never exist again. The way we have always done things has to be completely re-evaluated. Good or bad, we cannot go back to normal.
Social distancing has just begun to help flatten the curve, and we have all been instructed to stay six feet away from those who live outside of our home. Mass gatherings are banned, and masks must be worn when in public. Though all of our restrictions may vary based on location, we have all been forced to make significant changes to our way of life. Debates about what is essential and non-essential and the frustrations people have regarding restoring the economy fill social media.
Again, everyone wishes that things would go back to normal. The decisions about when students will go back to school is at the forefront of the minds of parents, students and schools across the world. No one knows when, and Ohio’s governor, Mike DeWine, made a statement that made administrators and teachers stop dead in their tracks. He said that schools need to stop asking the question of when they will resume. They need to start asking how, how will schools get kids back to schools? DeWine has repeated that returning to normal is not a flip of the switch, but a gradual process that is thoughtfully, purposefully and safely carried out. The same is true for schools. So what does that mean? It means that going back to school will take as much, if not more, planning than when we all moved to remote learning. One of the last restrictions to be lifted is mass gatherings, and schools are mass gatherings of students.
What do we need to think about to get kids back in school?
Social distancing: If we have been asked to stay six feet away from those who do not live within our household, how do we function within a school filled with hundreds of students, classrooms with 20 to 30 or more students? Some aspects of the school day are more seriously impacted by social distancing. Besides the classroom, there is recess, the cafeteria, standing in line to use the restroom, performances, specials (gym, choir, band, dance, art, etc.), how your school secretary interacts with those coming in the front door, transportation, transitions between classes, and so much more. When thinking about maintaining social distance in schools, thoughts go to how do we keep kids socially distant from one another? Kids do not understand why they can’t hug their friends, give high-fives, share food at lunch, cry on the shoulder of their bestie, share pencils, and other common interactions that are part of their school day. The stress level of a teacher walking into that environment AND teaching AND monitoring the mental wellness of those within their care will be more than one person can handle, never mind handle well. Schools will have to think through how to make this safe and how teachers can be supported so that they can do everything that is going to be asked of them.
Mass gatherings: Schools have traditionally depended on sporting events to support the athletics departments and programs. They use performances to highlight the work that has gone on inside of the arts classrooms and after-school clubs. After-school academic clubs have to be assessed. Schools are going to have to evaluate the degree of contact, the proximity, and the number of participants in such programs. These will be decisions that affect school budgets, schedules and offerings.
Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and testing: Face masks and latex/non-latex gloves will be a new school supply item. That is a tough pill to swallow. Walking through a school and seeing every child and every staff member wearing a mask will seem very abnormal. Will there be enough PPE for schools to have access to it? Will schools provide it for their staff and their students? How will schools ensure the sanitization of the masks their students are wearing? How will teaching and interacting with students through a mask impact our engagement and relationships with them? Schools will have to develop policies and procedures for taking temperatures of students, testing students that do spike a fever, potentially having COVID-19 testing kits on-site, and if a student does test positive, how will schools respond? Schools will need to look at school uniforms and ask questions about how students need to be dressed so that they are safe. Will students need to wear latex or non-latex gloves in schools?
Clearly, we cannot and should not return to normal. Our world has changed. We have to start thinking about how we will continue to educate kids in a thoughtful, deliberate, and safe manner. These changes are not based on what-if scenarios, but instead, they are dealing with our current situation. Unfortunately, there isn’t a singular plan or a single answer to any of these questions. Still, the next school year will be here before we know it. We have to be able to provide students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators, and community members with a means of continuing to educate responsibly. The question moving forward becomes: what will that take?