How will schools reopen – in-person classes, stay closed in favor of online classes, hybrid schedules with partial days? All options are on the table.
The pressure is on as districts around the country face the decision, with working parents anxiously watching to figure out how to get their families on a regular schedule.
President Trump has launched an all-out effort pressing state and local officials to reopen schools this fall, arguing that some are staying closed not because of the risks from the coronavirus pandemic but for political reasons. On July 8, he threatened to withhold federal funding if schools don’t reopen, and he lashed out at federal health officials over reopening guidelines that he says are impractical and expensive.
The president of the National Education Association, Lily Eskelsen García, responded: “Trump has proven to be incapable of grasping that people are dying — that more than 130,000 Americans have already died. Educators want nothing more than to be back in classrooms and on college campuses with our students, but we must do it in a way that keeps students, educators and communities safe.”
Other numbers tell a different story, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said in a June 30 hearing with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious diseases expert who has helped guide COVID-19 strategy.
Paul said 22 European countries have reopened their schools with no noticeable increase in coronavirus cases. “There is data from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands with no spike when schools are opened,” Paul said. “Contact tracing studies in China, Iceland, Britain, and the Netherlands failed to find a single case of child-to-adult infection.”
Paul also cited two supporting studies from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the YMCA, showing children are less likely to contract the virus.
The debate will continue, but the clock is ticking to start school. Here are some options being looked at nationally, according to Education Week.
This mix of in-person and remote learning can follow many formats and provide the most flexibility for districts to adapt to social distancing measures and shut down quickly if an outbreak occurs in the community. It also empowers district leaders to prioritize in-person instruction for students who need it most: students in special education, those who are English-learners, students who are homeless or in foster care. Depending on the model, operational logistics may be tricky and expensive. And adapting to any unfamiliar blend of some in-school attendance and some remote learning may be challenging for teachers, students, and families.
TRADITIONAL SCHEDULE WITH
Going to school, every day, for in-person instruction. It’s the ideal scenario that many schools are aiming for this fall. But the final form that live school attendance takes may look wildly different from state to state, community to community.
One of the biggest hurdles in trying to hew as closely as possible to the traditional school day? Finding the space to fit students and staff when class sizes must be smaller. That means getting creative with adaptations and modifications in scheduling and operations. Things like longer school days. Or school on Saturdays.
Year-round schooling, or a balanced calendar schedule, extends the academic calendar, shortens the summer break, and builds in regular intersessions for remediation, enrichment, and accelerated programs. While it has some ardent supporters—especially for its continuity of learning—year-round schooling has never been widely adopted because of its disruption to cherished traditions like the three-month summer vacation.
But the model provides some clear upsides as the pandemic continues.
With the all-too-likely scenario that remote learning must continue for some students and some communities—whether part time or full time—schools know they must improve upon what they did in the spring. Parents and students’ expectations for the experience will be higher. An all-remote schedule must come a lot closer to replicating a traditional, in-school experience for students and for teachers.
Education Week spoke to more than a dozen district leaders and other experts on school operations to discuss how the continued use of remote learning can, and must, get better. It requires much more planning, robust support for teachers, and regular adjustments to adapt to the needs of students, teachers, and families.
OPTIONS FOR SPECIAL POPULATIONS
No matter what type of schedule district leaders choose for reopening, there will need to be special considerations and exceptions for students who are medically fragile and can’t risk any exposure with in-person attendance. Students who cannot adapt to full-time remote learning will also need alternative arrangements.
Contributing: Associated Press, The Federalist, Education Week