Last March, school districts across the country closed due to COVID, and more than 55 million children were sent home to finish their school year. With school reopenings around the corner, many parents are wondering what learning environments will look like this fall, especially with the release of the CDC’s recommendations for school reopenings.
“The only thing that's certain right now is that we're not certain,” says Wayne Lewis, former education commissioner in Kentucky who is now dean of the College of Education at Belmont University at Nashville. “It's important to say that because as educators and educational leaders we need to wrap our heads around the reality that we don't necessarily know what it's going to look like.”
The CDC’s considerations are meant to help schools make reopening decisions in regards to COVID-19 protocols. Schools can determine, in collaboration with state and local health officials, whether and how to implement these considerations while adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local community.
Some school districts are considering a staggered start while others are considering various rotating schedules in which students come into school on certain days and log in remotely on others. And other school districts are considering lengthening the school day and year to make up for lost learning time.
Additional changes include increased sanitization of classrooms and busses, teachers and children wearing masks and other personal protective gear, frequent temperature checks and hand-washing, and new rules that allow for social distancing.
As these guidelines surface, parents are taking note. Here are some of the big ones parents and educators are talking about:
- Cloth Face Coverings: Anyone who is younger than 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone who would be unable to remove the face covering without help is advised not to wear masks, however, teaching and reinforcing the use of cloth face coverings by staff and students is considered essential, especially in times when physical distancing is difficult.
- Signs and Messages: Signs may be posted throughout the school and regular broadcast announcements on the PA system could be used to communicate ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
- Cleaning and Disinfection: An organized and routine cleaning and disinfecting schedule will be created for frequently touched surfaces such as playgrounds, door handles, sink handles and drinking fountains.
- Shared objects: It is encouraged that the use of shared objects such as art supplies, toys, and games, be limited when possible or cleaned between use. And that sharing of items that are difficult to clean such as books, games, learning aids, and so forth be discouraged.
- Modified Layouts: Spacing desks at least 6 feet apart, turning desks to face the same direction, and skipping rows when possible on the school bus are suggested ways for schools to create distance between children.
- Physical Barriers and Guides: This recommendation includes installing physical barriers such as sneeze guards and partitions, particularly in areas where it is difficult for individuals to remain at least 6 feet apart. Additionally, this includes providing physical guides, such as tape on floors or sidewalks for “one-way routes” and signs on walls, to ensure that staff and children remain at least 6 feet apart in lines and at other times.
- Gatherings, Visitors, and Field Trips: Schools are encouraged to pursue virtual group events, gatherings, or meetings, if possible, in lieu of field trips, student assemblies, special performances, school-wide parent meetings, and spirit nights, and to promote social distancing of at least 6 feet between people if events are held.
- Identifying Small Groups and Keeping Them Together (Cohorting): Ensure that student and staff groupings are as static as possible by having the same group of children stay with the same staff (all day for young children, and as much as possible for older children).
Parents are reacting strongly, either in relief or outrage, to the recommended CDC guidelines for reopening schools.
Here are a few thoughts parents are sharing who agree with the guidelines:
“My husband and I both work full time so if school is open, my kids are going. Distance learning was hard for us because my husband or I barely had time to help them with their work, then they just were on screens the rest of the day because we were working. As for returning to the school building, I don’t like what they have in mind for keeping social distance because I don’t think it’s great for kids, or feasible, but I get it’s a sacrifice we’re all having to make until the health crisis is under control.”
“Fall is still a ways off so who knows what will change by then. We personally will be going back to school later this year. We have discussed with our kids that if they go back, things might look different than last year (i.e. wearing a mask, etc.). When we talked about it, ‘I don't care mommy I want to go!’ was my daughter’s quick response."
“I am rolling with the punches right now but I would be comfortable with them going back to school in the fall if our numbers do not re-surge.”
And here are a few thoughts from parents who are expressing concern:
“As a parent, I do not want my child in a highly sanitized environment. I want them playing in the dirt, sitting next to kids at school, sharing toys, etc. Because I know that for them to reach optimal health, their immune system must practice and grow in strength.”
“If my kids have to wear masks and distance from friends then we will keep our kids home. I am more worried about the psychological consequences of attending school with these guidelines than I am about my healthy children contracting COVID.”
“My kids will stay home this fall. I want my kids to feel connected, motivated to learn, have relaxed days and learn healthy social interaction. This is hard to create when facial expressions are hidden beneath masks, closeness is feared, and we are increasing screen time.”
“My children are strong and healthy. They understand how their bodies work and I won’t put them in a situation in which fear, chemicals and distance are the things that “keep us safe”. Because in our philosophy of life, they don’t. Children are so impressionable and I won’t expose mine to this “new normal”. Increased screen time, highly sterilized environments, separation … that’s not how humans are wired to thrive and that’s not how to strengthen the immune system. I am hoping I can send them, but I’m also saving homeschool links just in case.”
While our opinions may differ, we can all hold space for love, knowledge, patience, and understanding to guide us. Times may be uncertain, but the one thing that is for certain (and always will be...) is that we are stronger together.