What Would Re-Opened Schools Look Like? Who Decides?

The UFT President Michael Mulgrew has been holding virtual meetings with teacher union (UFT) members: focus groups to get 1:1 feedback, scores of them as well as Town Halls, virtual meetings with many hundreds of members. One of the first questions was about school re-openings. Mulgrew was frank, the re-opening meetings are just beginning, nothing will be decided for many weeks, on the table, half days to reduce class size in the elementary schools, alternate days in upper grades, and, of course, safety first will be the guide.

A few days ago the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued long delayed guidance; however, Washington has no authority over school openings or closing, these decisions are reserved for the states.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

 Governor Cuomo has daily briefing and opening sections of the state to phase 1 openings, Long Island may join the others areas next week. (See detailed re-opening guide here).

The CDC guidance has a special section for schools with specific recommendations.

o Ensure that student and staff groupings are as static as possible by having the same group of children stay with the same staff (all day for young children, and as much as possible for older children).

o Restrict mixing between groups.

o Cancel all field trips, inter-group events, and extracurricular activities.

o Limit gatherings, events, and extracurricular activities to those that can maintain social distancing, support proper hand hygiene, and restrict attendance of those from higher transmission areas.

o Restrict nonessential visitors, volunteers, and activities involving other groups at the same time.

o Space seating/desks to at least six feet apart.

o Turn desks to face in the same direction (rather than facing each other), or have students sit on only one side of tables, spaced apart.

o Close communal use spaces such as dining halls and playgrounds if possible; otherwise stagger use and disinfect in between use.

o If a cafeteria or group dining room is typically used, serve meals in classrooms instead. Serve individually plated meals and hold activities in separate classrooms and ensure the safety of children with food allergies.

o Stagger arrival and drop-off times or locations, or put in place other protocols to limit close contact with parents or caregivers as much as possible.

o Create social distance between children on school buses (for example, seating children one child per seat, every other row) where possible

Read the entire school section here

The CDC sets a very high bar, for many unrealistic for schools; CDC guidance is not a requirement; the governor can accept the CDC guidance, can set New York State opening standards or can derogate the standards to school districts.

What will be the role of teacher unions? Parent groups? Other elected bodies, such as school boards, local elected leaders or the Assembly and Senate?

In New York City the UFT, the teacher union will play a major role.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the national teacher union led by Randi Weingarten released a data-based guide to schools openings, read here

The unanswered questions are endless: will high risk teachers (by age or health concerns) be required to return to school or can they continue to remote instruct in some capacity?

What happens in a school if a child or teacher tests positive? Does the entire school return to remote instruction?

What would instruction look like in a world of fully implemented CDC guidance?

The NYU Metro Center issued a report, GUIDANCE ON CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE-SUSTAINING SCHOOL REOPENINGS: Centering Equity to Humanize the Process of Coming Back Together.(Read  report here).

The country is on the brink of beginning again. And as we restart our national engines, let’s do so with a steady and caution hand, not taking for granted the sobering lessons that COVID-19 is teaching us: that in a nation as fundamentally carved out of its differences as ours, equity matters. Thus, it would be a mistake to imagine the school reopening process absent an acknowledgement that something fundamentally has taken place in our world, that the thing that interrupted life for millions of Americans afflicted vulnerable populations in ways disproportionate to more privileged populations. In acknowledging this, we provide this document—a set of suggestions and topics to think about—for humanizing the school reopening process

The report goes far beyond the CDC guidance and sees an opportunity,

A joy-based reimagining of schooling will involve more human-to-human interaction, collaborative learning, less or no homework, very few assessments that are continuous in nature and group assessments that feel less burdensome. A joy-based reimagining of schooling is one where we replicate spaces that center students of the global majority (BIPOC)* and let go of anything that continues to marginalize, exclude, and harm them.

 * Black/Indigenous People of Color

 

For many the NYU Metro Center paper will be treated with exultation, a fresh start, for others, disdain, let’s return to an instructional model that we have spent decades fine-tuning.

A  respected college professor,Sarah Woulfin,

Yessss! I’ve shared this plan with a couple of districts

The highly influential LI Opt Outs leader, Jeanette Deutermann gives thoughtful advice, with over 150 comments, many angry …

Jeanette Brunelle Deutermann

I know the question of whether schools will reopen in the fall, and if so what they will look like, is scary and making everyone anxious (with anger mixing into that anxiety). … Everyone is arguing over things that are just theories right now …please take a breath. The virus itself is not political. The solution for schools won’t be either. I don’t care if you believe the virus is real or not. It doesn’t change the fact that September will be unrecognizable. That is the only fact we know. The real work will be in designing something that works to keep our kids and school staff safe.


I am updating this by saying that I’m not urging school officials not to begin planning. I’m urging parents not to go to war over theoretical possibilities. The work on this will be a four month process that is just beginning. One thing is for sure- raging battles in our communities amongst each other will NOT benefit the process

As Jeanette says, “please, take a breath,” any decision will be driven by data and, the decisions require extremely complicated logistics. How do you create social distancing on school buses? How do you arrange bus schedules if schools go to separate morning and afternoon sessions?  And on and on.

Stress is unhealthy: exercise, meditate, healthy diet, take care of yourself, anger can be corrosive.

Listen to Carole King, “You’ve Got a Friend”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qde5NMy7WTU

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