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The Missouri School Board Association recently released a 98-page document, PANDEMIC RECOVERY CONSIDERATIONS: Re-Entry and Reopening of Schools, with very detailed and granular considerations that every school board in the state should consider when planning for the 2020-21 school year.
There is a lot in the document, and you should read through it yourself, but instead of delving into each of the details, we have written a possible picture of what the first few months of school may look like based on the recommendations in the document.
It is sadly, a dark and depressing image of what school could be next year, but it also may be a realistic portrayal of what our students will experience. Hopefully, this will not be the future, but we should all be ready to deal with it if it is.
After a crazy and abrupt end to the school year last year and a long summer of social distancing it is finally time to go back to school and your kid is excited to see their friends again.
They get up super early so they can catch the new bus route (the district has had to increase and stagger the number of bus routes to reduce the number of kids on each bus and at bus stops to maintain social distancing).
Once on the bus, they find that they can’t really talk to any of their friends because they are only allowed to sit one student per seat and have to leave empty seats between each student.
When they finally get to school they are asked to make sure they have a facemask on before entering the building.
They are stopped mid-stride as they run to hug their favorite teacher from last year and told that they cannot touch any staff or other students while in school.
When they finally make it to their classroom they find that, like on the bus, they being told to sit with a desk in between each student. Then they are told to pull out any school supplies they will be using for the day and wipe them with a sanitizing wipe.
They think that all of these new rules are aggravating, but the rules aren’t what is making school feel weird. they realize the weirdest thing is how quiet it is. Their teacher tells them that is because half, or more, of their classmates, are not there because they will be coming on a staggered schedule (either during an afternoon session or on staggered days).
Then your child is told that lunch will be eaten at their desk instead of in the cafeteria to reduce kids passing in the hallways. Even worse, they are told that the playground is closed and they will only be allowed to go outside to walk with at least six-feet distance between them and anyone else. In fact, they are encouraged only to leave their desk to go wash their hands, which they are required to do on an hourly basis.
They come home crying after this difficult day, but kids are resilient and they adapt to this new normal over the next couple of weeks.
Then a parent of another student in your kid’s school tests positive for COVID-19 and the school decides to shut down for a week for prolonged cleaning to make sure it is safe.
The school sends your child home with packets of work to do during the week, but since it is a temporary closure they do not try to start up real distance education.
Your child returns to school, and they struggle to get caught up on the material missed during the week. Just as everyone seems to back on track for the new normal, news breaks that a second wave of the virus is hitting the state and the school has decided to implement its emergency school closure plan and provide remote education for at least one month of the fall.
This time things are different. Your child is sent home with a Chromebook and a hotspot to make sure they can connect. The teacher’s, building off of what they learned this spring and a summer of planning and training, are able to provide effective distance education and keep your kid learning at home.
After a month, the cases start to go down and your kid returns to school but is faced with even greater social distancing and sanitation restrictions as the school takes extra precautions in case of a third wave.
The rest of the year follows a similar pattern of random cases forcing short term closures and the constant fear that another wave could close the school for an even longer time.
It is impossible to tell if this is what kids across Missouri will experience in the fall, but it seems likely families will have to deal with many of these issues if not all of them.
The pandemic has forced a permanent change in how education institutions operate. We should take the opportunity to make sure we have a voice in what that new normal looks like and ensure that we are doing everything to create an education system that serves all children in the best way possible.
In the next blog, we will look at some of the suggestions from top education leaders for how education should change to meet this crisis.