SCHOOL REOPENING SERIES: THE UNCERTAIN FUTURE
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced school districts to adjust how they operate and educate students while schools are closed, and the state and schools do not yet have an official plan for the fall.
As of June 29th, questions about Texas students attending school in person in the fall are still up in the air. According to the website, The Texas Education Agency is closely monitoring the outbreak while things continue to change. In an interview with the Texas Tribune, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath stated that though campuses may be safe for in-person instruction in the fall, “… there will also be flexibility for families with health concerns so that their children can be educated remotely, if the parent so chooses.”
Some superintendents worry that the longer school buildings are closed, students will fall behind in learning. Brian Woods, superintendent of Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, stated, “The bigger question is: How can you plan to be nimble so that if the situation changes quickly, you can adjust to the change either way, either toward bringing kids into buildings or perhaps once you bring kids into buildings, having to put them back into distance learning environments?… If you ask me today, what’s the percentage chance we come back in August? I have no idea. Somewhere between 0 and 100%”.
About half the students in Northside ISD are economically disadvantaged, and 12% of students receive special education services. To reduce exposure in the fall, Superintendent Woods is considering bringing back these students that are least likely to be served successfully virtually while keeping the other students at home with distance learning.
Many superintendents are concerned that parents will not send their children back to school even if they are open. Angleton ISD is one of many school districts that sent out a Parent Survey to gather the opinions of the parents and families in their communities. The surveys ask questions about internet and device access, parents’ feelings about their remote learning experience during the closures, and parents’ likelihood of sending their children back to school in the fall. Across the state, surveys like this one show that parents are weighing the struggle of distance learning with the health risks of attending school. 73% of Northside ISD parents surveyed said they would prefer to keep students at home if COVID cases continue to rise, but that they would also feel more comfortable if the district followed strict safety guidelines.
Though we do not know yet what it will look like when schools are finally cleared for reopening, there will undoubtedly be many changes to the normal school day. Here are some ideas in consideration:
- Staggered Schedules: Maintaining physical distance might require schools to implement staggered schedules, with some students attending morning classes and others in the afternoon, or students attending on different days of the week. The state has also encouraged some districts to plan a year-round calendar which allows them to have frequent breaks in case of COVID spikes.
- Minimize Group Activities: To follow social distancing recommendations, schools may not be able to accommodate group activities like assemblies and recess.
- Classroom Meals: Children might have to stay in their main classroom all day-including lunchtime. Students may be more inclined to bring lunches from home, and school nutrition staff might need to deliver plated lunches to classrooms with disposable plates and utensils.
- Classroom Reconfiguration: School leaders have discussed plans to reconfigure classroom set up to limit contact, and some have contemplated using more outdoor areas for learning. Classroom seats and desks would need to be at least six feet apart and facing the same direction with barriers and/or sneeze guards.
- Operations Adjustments: Regular deep cleaning would be required in all school spaces and busses, where busses would have to follow social distancing guidelines as well, spacing children apart or skipping rows. Schools would need to ensure that ventilation systems are operating and there is proper circulation of outdoor air. Arrival and drop-off procedures might also need to be altered by setting staggered times and spacing out student drop off and pick up areas.
Some schools could adopt all of these changes, and some may choose to follow only a few, or add other changes that pertain specifically to their individual situations. All school districts will be following the guidelines set forth by the CDC and the Texas Education Agency and communicating with district families via district websites and social media.
CDC Recommendations for Reopening Schools
NPR- What it Might Look Like to Safely Reopen Schools
Living (and Learning) with COVID-19: Best Practices for Reopening Schools
Ed Week- Pros and Cons of Outdoor Classrooms
Texas Tribune- Texas Schools Weigh the Odds of Students Returning this Fall