Update: Since writing this post, many schools in the US opened their doors for in person learning. Within the first few weeks, a Georgia HS in Paulding County had 35 positive cases of COVID-19 in students and faculty. Even with the positive cases, the students are set to return to school. Read the story here.
How many of you are fighting an internal battle on whether or not you should send your children back to school in the fall or whether you should enroll in virtual learning? How many of you even have that choice? This is the dilemma many parents are facing at this point. Is it safe for our children to return to school?
The COVIC-19 pandemic has turned most of our world’d upside down. We’ve gone from being completely social, shopping, and enjoying each other’s company, to self isolation and quarantine. Our new normal is face masks and 6 feet distancing. Many, haven’t seen family members in months, during a time that is normally spent on family vacations and gatherings. Parents are struggling with trying to figure out their work situation and are forced to choose between having a career or keeping their children safe?
Safe for our children to return to school? What are the top officials saying?
On July 8, 2020, President Trump threatened to withhold federal funding if schools did not reopen in the fall. He then went on a tantrum about how guidelines from federal health officials (CDC) were too expensive and impractical. In a tweet he posted:
I don’t know… Maybe this is why…
Education Secretary, Betsy Devos, stated that schools need to reopen and that each state needs to “figure out how it’s going to be done safely.”
So the question is, how do we do this safely? I’m sure all of America can agree that our children need to be back in school, in some form, in order to continue their education. Teachers will agree as well. They want to reconnect with our children and continue in their passion of educating these young minds, but at what cost?
CDC Return to School Guidelines
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued several guidelines, to aid schools with references and material in order to reopen their schools safely. So what is impractical? Can this be managed safely? Let’s take a look at a few.
Wearing face covering
Wearing a face covering is shown to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and is more effective when all parties are involved. Lets read that again… Wearing a face covering is shown to slow the spread of COVID-19. Not prevent. I think this misunderstanding leads to many of the debate about whether to wear masks or not. I’m not here to get into that debate.
As for students wearing masks, the issue comes in with, how do you make sure a young child keeps their mask on? How many 5 year olds possess the discipline to keep their masks over their noses and mouths for 8 hours a day without touching their faces…Digging their noses? How do we expect young children to wear masks all day in school when grown adults refuse to do so for a quick stop in a store?
In countries like China, Japan, and Vietnam, where wearing a mask was already a part of their normal lives, especially during flu season, they have continued to implement face coverings as they returned to school. Masks are required while allowing the children to remove them during lunch or when separated by partitions. In other countries, there is an age requirement. For instance, only children above the age of 5 or 7.
Reinforce healthy hygiene
We all know kids bring home the most germs. I swear, as soon as they start school the entire family is sick with a cold. That’s because they constantly share everything while continuously putting their hands in their mouths and noses, sneezing and couching without covering their mouths, and not washing their hands frequently. Even while on this lockdown we’ve had to remind our kids to wash their hands. Something they know they need to do, but when you’re focused on a game or outside play, that’s the only thing you can think of. It’s so important to stress the importance of washing your hands at a very young age. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone into a public restroom and someone walks out of the stall and right out the door before I could even utter a sound.
Intensify cleaning and disinfection efforts.
This is basically cleaning and disinfecting surfaces. I have to be honest, this one I worry about. Every year when everyone is doing their school shopping I see and hear the same comments: “OMG why does my child’s teach need so many[insert object here”. Usually at some point during the school year, we get a message from their teacher asking if anyone could donate extra supplies. Why is that? Because even before this pandemic, teachers were constantly disinfecting surfaces to make sure our children were protected. Parents complained about the extra tube of disinfecting wipes or box of Kleenex that were requested.
I don’t know about you, but I happily buy extra supplies for my children’s teachers each year. Why not? These individuals are severely underpaid and undervalued. They aren’t provided with all the supplies needed for the school year, and many teachers reach into their own pockets to provide for their students. What is an extra $3 tube if disinfectant wipes going to hurt?
So if it isn’t safe for our teachers and students to return to school, what are the alternatives? Is there a way to return to school safely? Is virtual school and homeschooling our only option?
Teachers have chimed in…
“Sanitation MUST occur on a deeper level everyday after school is out. In my classroom before covid-19 I encouraged hand-washing, using sanitizer, and I made my kiddos responsible for their own space by having them clean it. I think that allowing students on campus in some sort of orderly fashion depending on where their class is located to minimize interaction of larger crowds.”Tatiana Edwards, Special Education Teacher
Twitter has been buzzing with responses from teachers and parents on their thoughts about reopening school without proper precautions. One Twitter user wrote:
I’m a middle school teacher and I’m terrified! How am I going to interact safely with 150 students everyday. How are we going to transition them in the halls? My district extended our day by 10 min for extra hand washing. I’m sure that will save my life!!!— Liz Walker (@Lizw107) July 10, 2020
Many feel as though the government is not thinking about the wellbeing of the teachers and students.
Why are we treating schools like a science experiment? I didn’t sign up to die for my career. #CNNTownHall— Kay (@katie_maeee) July 10, 2020
Could there be consequences? Of course!
The reality is, there are consequences on both sides.
What if we don’t send the children back?
There have been concerns about the mental and physical wellbeing of children during this quarantine and what the long term effects could be. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued the following statement:
“The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020. Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation. This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality. Beyond the educational impact and social impact of school closures, there has been substantial impact on food security and physical activity for children and families.”American Academy of Pediatrics
As much as the AAP encourages getting children back into brick and mortar schools, they are insistent on ensuring that this objective is done in a safe matter. It’s no secret that there are some areas that are more affected than others, so trying to enforce schools to reopen while their numbers are continuously rising isn’t in the best interest of faculty or students. Parents should have the option of opting into alternative schooling methods if necessary without repercussions. Would we really force schools to reopen when it’s apparent that their COVID-19 numbers are out of control?
What if we send them back too early?
Many parents, teachers, and administrators have also voiced concerns about reopening too soon. Are school systems prepared to bring children back into their hallways? Have they taken all the right precautions? The CDC has established many guidelines to help school systems reopen their doors including handling sick individuals. Unfortunately, their guidelines can seem very vague and leaves the biggest decisions on the shoulders of the administrators.
Require sick students and staff to stay home. Establish procedures for students and staff who are sick at school.
Establish procedures to ensure students and staff who become sick at school or arrive at school sick are sent home as soon as possible.
Keep sick students and staff, particularly those with symptoms of respiratory illness, separate from well students and staff until they can leave. Plan to have areas where these individuals can be isolated from well students and staff until they can leave the school.
Remember that schools are not expected to screen students or staff to identify cases of COVID-19. If a community (or more specifically, a school) has cases of COVID-19, local health officials will help identify those individuals and will follow up on next steps.
Share resources with the school community to help families understand when to keep children home. This guidance, not specific to COVID-19, from the American Academy of Pediatrics can be helpful for families.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
So what does this mean? How will their decisions on managing disease surveillance efforts change when cases start to surface? How can we ensure that it’s safe for our children to return to school with such grey guidelines?
Ex: If a student tests positive, do we send the entire class home, including the teacher, to quarantine for 2 weeks? What about any other teachers the student has come into contact with?
Wider community spread?
This also brings into question on whether or not reopening schools will pose a greater threat to the community than on the children themselves. From what we’ve seen, children rarely exhibit severe symptoms of the virus. They could pose a threat to other family members and the community who may be at higher risk for severe complications. This seems highly unlikely in areas that haven’t been hit hard with COVID-19 cases. It’s still something in the back of some minds.
I teach special education so for me that’s even more personal. I have some students who would do just fine in a mask and others not so much. Because they all have such different abilities and diagnoses there isn’t the option for one size fits all. To that, I think that if we are able to get the students in class who are capable of wearing a masks in class safely with distance we should. The operative word being safely. Maybe something like staggering desks with plastic partitions.
There has to be something because teaching sped is very up close and personal. When I teach my classes I tend to teach at the board for maybe 15mins. The rest of the time I am providing one on one interaction because it is needed. So I can’t be in my kiddos faces like that, but with a partition I can be on the other side with a chair and small dry erase board to assist. For the students who cannot wear a mask then virtual classes it should be. That might look like class online after hours. I presume that full school day might not be an option. So at 230pm twice a week I’d have those students split to teach virtually. Obviously any supports needed will be sent home as individualized for that student to help with meeting set goals.
Tatiana Edwards Special Education Teacher
What are our alternatives to returning to face to face schooling?
That’s the big question isn’t it? WTF are we supposed to do?! Do I send my children back or do I keep them home? We all want to make sure it’s safe for our children to return to school. For some households, there really isn’t an option due to both parents working, or single parent households. And why should anyone be forced to give up their career right? Let’s not even mention it’s usually the woman that is forced to stay home(another blog post maybe). So what exactly are our options?
Where I live, we’re still waiting on the governor to make a decision on the reopening schools. Meanwhile, the school district has sent out information letting parents know that they will be offering virtual schooling for grades K-12.
Now I’ll admit, this is something we’re considering. I’m hesitant because when we began this lockdown in March, there was very little direction. Assignments were given online, but there was no instruction. My middle schooler never saw his teachers until the last day of school. He returned his school issued laptop through the passenger window of the car and waved goodbye. My child was extremely overwhelmed, as was I. There was a reason I didn’t become a teacher. There’s also a reason I chose public schooling over homeschooling. This was not my forte and there were many breakdowns from both parties.
Many schools across the country are opting to offer virtual schooling in some fashion. Most are figuring out ways to incorporate virtual face to face learning using Zoom and other video chat platforms. I think this would be most beneficial for children’s whose parents are not comfortable sending them to school.
Other locations are offering a hybrid option for schooling. They are having partial face to face school and partial virtual schooling. In Lake County Florida, they plan on offering language arts and math in person, while the other subjects will be online. Other school systems are trying to make things feel as normal as possible for students by thinking of ways to implement the return to school with staggered starts throughout the day.
If you decide not to enroll your child back into your public school systems, your other option is to homeschool. Homeschool has become more and more popular over the years, way before any pandemic was ever in question. More parents are feeling the need to take over their children’s education due to a number of reasons and are finding that joining homeschool co-ops have been what is best for meeting their children’s needs.
Safe for our children to return to school?
So what have you decided? How will you be making the decision on how your child will receive their education? Will you send them to school for face to face learning, or have you opted to enroll them into virtual learning? Do you think the administrations are doing a good job with creating policies to ensure safety and keeping parents informed?Are you a teacher that is fearful due to the indecisiveness of government officials and administration and what that means for you and your students? Let me know in the comments below! Let’s continue this discussion.