Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Can schools open safely in the fall? Discuss...

Can schools reopen in the fall? And by open, I mean with children, educators, and staff safely occupying school buildings which are now shuttered because of the pandemic. If we're just talking about distance learning, then we have to say schools are already open and teachers have been hard at work since the outbreak of coronavirus, trying under near-impossible, inequitable conditions to rebuild their learning communities solely via the internet.

And if schools do reopen, which in one form or another now seems likely, will the educational value being offered and received outweigh the risks to the health and very lives of millions of students and their teachers?

It's complicated. But right now, I would say no.

As the end of summer approaches, Trump and his know-nothing ed secretary Betsy DeVos are threatening school districts that don't fully open.

Florida’s Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, a Republican, issued a sweeping executive order Monday requiring all schools in the state to reopen their buildings for in-person instruction for the coming school year, even as coronavirus cases in the state continue to skyrocket.

A piece in The Atlantic by former Obama Dept. of Homeland Security Asst. Sec. Juliette Kayyem correctly calls reopening schools "an afterthought."
Schools do not have a simple on-off switch. To reopen schools will not just take a lot of money. Classroom layouts, buildings, policies, schedules, extracurricular activities, teacher and staff assignments, and even curricula must all be altered to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission.
But having said that and showing she understands the depth of the safe reopening problem and the obvious lack of planning and resources as fall approaches, former  Kayyem says, do it anyway.

Recognizing that the massive resources and planning needed for a safe reopening in the fall aren't coming, she writes:
Americans must learn to manage around the virus, to mitigate its potential for spread. Fall isn’t far off, and school systems nationwide need to make up for lost time. A bar doesn’t need a groundswell of public support to reopen, but schools most certainly do.
Maybe we need to hear more from educators and others most directly affected on this topic, and less from homeland security experts.

The teacher unions have taken a strong stand on the need for more school funding and the for extra staffing, but seem to also be calling for a "safe reopening" in the fall, as if that's likely or really possible. But to their credit, they also are pressing school districts to allow teachers to opt out of teaching in person.

Kind of like Major League Baseball or the NBA. It makes sense.

In Chicago, the reopening discussion has been mainly focused on cops in the schools, with little public discussion coming from any side about the pressing issues above.

The real threat to student and teacher safety this year, however, doesn't come from the SRO posted in the school but from the corona wildfire pandemic itself. Until a vaccine is available, the resources and planning necessary for a safe reopening are too great to be put in place in the next eight weeks.

CONUNDRUM...Resource-starved local school districts just aren't up to the task. But neither have they been able to offer equitable resources, professional development, or viable programs for stay-at-home kids and teachers. Today's version of Catch-22.

HARVARD...Even with their $41B endowment and some of the smartest people in the educational field, the university has still not found a way to open its classrooms to live instruction this fall. Incredibly, their students are still being charged full tuition of $50K to take online classes.

And speaking of Catch-22, Trump is taking full advantage of the crisis in post-secondary ed by threatening immigrant students with deportation unless they enroll in regular classrooms.

This might be the right time for undergrads in high-tuition colleges to take a gap year or to enroll in a community college.

An even better alternative might be to spend the fall and into the winter marching and demanding the things we need to save public ed. The Movement is a fine classroom.

I'm reviving my nearly-dormant Small Schools twitter page to encourage a more focused discussion on schooling in the corona and post-corona era. Feel free to follow and post or repost. 

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