School will be in session for the 2020-2021 academic year even as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. What a typical day will look like depends on the public or independent school system.
Though school administrators are cautiously formulating plans, parents ultimately will be faced with the difficult decision of what to do this fall. Districts have been talking about all in-school, all virtual and a combination of the two.
Parents need to ask questions, lots of questions. After all, these plans involve their most precious gifts, their children.
So far, school leaders have been carefully studying possibilities and seeking guidance from state and federal education and health experts. But the leadership from above has been absent, arbitrary, contradictory and confusing.
President Donald Trump, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos all say opening schools this fall is critical for children’s emotional wellbeing and education. Yes, children need guided learning, socialization, meals and emotional support provided by schools. But is it safe?
Where are the extra financial resources needed to make school buildings healthy environments? Public health experts say each community should have a program of testing, contact tracing and quarantine. Frankly, trying to get a COVID-19 test is not easy in Northeast Ohio right now.
Where are the definitive national safety guidelines to help districts set the rules? How do we protect children, teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, maintenance workers and administrators who are bound to come in contact with each other when school bells ring?
Still, school leaders have no option but to push on. The Chagrin Falls Exempted Village School District is starting the academic year with a hybrid learning model, with a total remote option. Just in case, two other plans – all in-school and all-remote – have been approved by the BOE if needed. That sounds like prudent planning. As Superintendent Robert Hunt said, the district could use all three models at different times of the year depending on the state of the virus.
A survey of Chagrin parents showed 91 percent want their children back in school with 48 percent preferring a full return and 46 percent a hybrid plan. This pretty much reflects what parents are saying in many Chagrin Valley districts.
Solon’s plan calls for all students to return to classroom buildings with a virtual education alternative. The same goes for University School, a private school for boys.
Kenston Local School District’s plan calls for all student to be back in the buildings full-time with a fully remote choice taught by the Educational Service Center of Northeast Ohio.
West Geauga Local School District is planning a remote start for all students during the first three weeks of school, giving the staff more time to monitor the virus rates and get buildings ready. Then students can choose to either learn in the classroom or at home.
Chardon Local School District is devising a plan based on a color-coded, four-part model linked to the state’s alert system based on increases or decreases of coronavirus cases.
That’s just a sampling of plans being formulated across Northeast Ohio. Besides working out two or three versions of the curriculum, there’s the issue of personal safety.
Every school system thus far is requiring masks as well as emphasizing hand-washing and social distancing – all practices that experts say will reduce the spread of the virus. Enforcement will be a challenge.
There is no one-size-fits-all plan. But districts do have much in common. Students are bused, students sit at desks, students eat lunch in the buildings, students in upper grades change classes, students need to use restrooms and students need to get drinks of water during the day.
The Ohio Education Association backs remote learning at the start of the school year for counties with high numbers of cases. That is a reasonable recommendation.
Opening school demands better guidance and resources at the national level and the full scrutiny of parents, teachers and administrators.
We can all agree that keeping children safe is the ultimate goal.