The coronavirus pandemic caused most governments around the world to close their schools, affecting 67.6% of registered students, according to UNESCO data. In the United States, it was decided that most schools at all levels would close their doors. Currently, with the gradual reopening of activities, it is being discussed whether it is feasible for children to return to classrooms in the fall. This is a controversial topic since, on the one hand, they want to protect children’s health, but they also fear the academic and psychological effects that the closure of schools can have on children.
Reopening of schools and family options
School districts are designing different strategies with a wide range of scenarios, from staying fully online, to variations of hybrid models, combining face-to-face and distance classes, in order to avoid major difficulties for people inside buildings as well as to provide support for families that need their children to attend school.
In the New York school district, the nation’s largest, a tiered model for returning to school is planned, with students attending face-to-face classes one to three days a week and the rest to be online. This as long as the school zone presents a 5% daily infection rate for a period of at least two weeks. New York City public schools are currently scheduled to reopen in a hybrid model on September 21, as the city has managed to keep new infection rates below 1% of its 8.5 million population.
San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles, the three largest school districts in California announced that they will not return to school in August and may not return until at least November, this was a decision made after a call from United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) to start the next school year so remotely to care for the health of children and teachers. According to the Sacramento Bee, “The rules call for schools to prioritize opening for small groups of children with disabilities, those who have special needs, are English language learners, at-risk students or students who need access to the internet or other devices for distance learning.” Some schools will offer an option of gathering on school grounds for cohorts in the above listed groups. Cohorts will include groups of up to 14 children with 2 adults who do not intermingle with other students or groups.
In Detroit, on the other hand, schools started summer courses, giving families the option to do it in person or virtually and plan a September re-opening. To attend the face-to-face summer courses, they have to monitor the temperature of the students and staff, who must wear a mask and practice social distancing. Classes will be capped at 20 students per course and students who take buses must sit apart. Virtual classes will be offered each semester with more options made available on an ongoing basis.
Schools in the 8th largest school district in the US, Philadelphia, do not plan to open until at least November with a hybrid model that combines face-to-face and online classes. The district will continually reassess student and community risks to finalize a return date.
Nashville planned to implement the same system since August 4, however, given recent contact numbers, it has been decided to delay implementing a staggered plan until mid-October for elementary students and until January for high school students. The plan may change again depending on contagion rates but currently is scheduled to be implemented as follows:
- Tuesday, Oct. 13: pre-K through second grade (half days on Oct. 13 and 14)
- Tuesday, Oct. 20: third and fourth grade
- Tuesday, Oct. 27: fifth and six grade
- Wednesday, Nov. 4: seventh and eighth grade
- Thursday, Jan. 7: ninth through twelfth grade
Many schools in Florida reopened in August. There has been a good deal of public debate as to whether the 67 public school districts should have been mandated to reopen as ordered by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran in August. In response to this rule, Judge Charles Dodson of Leon Country Circuit Court wrote, “The order is unconstitutional to the extent it arbitrarily disregards safety, denies local school boards decision making with respect to opening brick and mortar schools, and conditions funding on an approved reopening plan with a start date in August.” So far about 50% of schools have seemed to reopen with an in person program. Thousands of students have been infected with the virus, but schools are not being ordered to close.
How these solutions affect parents?
In the US, 50.8 million children attend public school. Most people with children who work depend on schools for the protection and care of their children during business hours. Districts that do not offer the option to parents to decide between the either a typical face-to-face or virtual educational strategy will make it difficult for many parents to return to work but the ones that do may pose a public health risk of elevating communal spread of coronavirus cases. These are difficult decisions for public leaders, school administrations, teachers, parents and students to make.