As the President and the Secretary of Education call for a full school reopening, with threats aimed at states that are more cautious, the fifty states and 14,000 school districts consider the options.
John Hopkins University posted a reopening policy tracker, a user-friendly source that enables the user to click on every state and organization and view whatever documents they posted. Impressive!!
For example, see the Texas plan here and the New York University, Guidance on Culturally-Responsive Sustaining School Openings here.
New York State is complicated and confusing. The governor, who was granted wide-ranging emergency powers by the legislature appointed a “Reimaging Education Task Force” and, at daily press conferences emphasized again and again that he will decide on whether or not schools re-open. The chancellor reminded us that the State Constitution places education under the leadership of the Board of Regents.
The State Commissioner, after a number of regional meetings with representatives from across the states, presented the state plan to the Board of Regents. See plan here
A few hours later the governor held his press briefing and laid out the data points required for school reopening, by region. The specifics of the plan will be determined by the school district, and approved by State Education Department (SED) and the governor. The Board of Regents and the governor seem to be somewhat in conflict: does the governor decide on the “health and safety” and State Ed on the education plan?
Watch the governor’s press conference here.
The governor made it clear, abundantly clear, that the first week in August he will determine “go/no-go” based on data points by state region.
Later in the day the NYS Department of Health released a 23-page “Guidelines for School Re-Opening” here,
New York City has released a detailed plan, very detailed, planning for a hybrid reopening and schools will select from a number of school scheduling models. See models here.
In New York City any parent can opt for full remote.
In spite of trepidation, parents and teachers are nervous, concerned; perhaps fearful; the state is inching closer and closer to a re-opening with the details left to local school districts.
For parents and teachers the overriding issue is safety.
- Can meaningful instruction take place in an environment with social distancing and mask wearing? Can you actually enforce the rules with younger children? In many schools only small percentages of parents returned surveys, will parents abide by the staggered school schedules? Will the staggered school schedules reduce attendance?
- Can schools actually enforce daily temperature taking at entry? Can schools clean using appropriate cleansers every day?
- What are the protocols if a staff member, student or family member of a student tests positive?
- Will testing be made readily available to staff members?
- When will the “accommodation” guidelines/application (request to remain fully “remote”) be available for staff?
- What happens if many more staffer members apply then are required?
- Who funds required protective personal equipment (PPE)?
- Are there plans for childcare for staffs?
Who answers these questions? For many (most? all?), the answers will be made at the local level; with 700 school districts in New York State the burden on smaller school districts will be overwhelming. The larger urban districts are facing severe budget cuts; will they have the dollars to fund the additional safety requirements?
To remain fully remote when the contagion rates are low and declining is difficult to defend. One outstanding question is how you define “safe for children, families and staff.”
To the question of school reopening Michael Mulgrew, the leader of the UFT, the New York City teachers union gave a “qualified yes.”
Schools can reopen, but only when they are safe for students, their families, and the staff.
The current proposed reopening plans for New York City public schools – based on state and CDC recommendations – call for no more than 9-12 people in the average classroom, meaning that most schools will have to create cohorts of students who alternate between in-class and remote learning. Everyone in school will be masked, and there will also have to be extensive cleaning, testing, and contact-tracing protocols.
All of the scheduling plans are complicated to implement and present logistical challenges for working parents, but we believe a blended learning model is the best option under the circumstances. The (New York City) Department of Education is working with principals to develop more detailed plans, particularly the best instructional strategies for the most vulnerable students.
Mulgrew is correct: the area that has been neglected, sorely neglected is the question of instruction
Eric Nadelstern, a former deputy chancellor, reminds us,
Eric Nadelstern | July 8, 2020
The DOE plan for reopening schools has tackled the question as if it is a managerial problem rather than an instructional one. The first problem that demands solution is which instructional approaches can be equally effective if students are in school, online or a hybrid of the two as pandemic safety will require at different times during the COVID crisis. Once determined, then the managerial issues fall into place.
Should the leadership at the state and local levels have explored the most effective remote and/or hybrid models before determining the questions of the models? The answer is obvious
For better or worse the education decisions (scheduling models, curriculum, etc.) will be made at the local level.
While the fog is lifting the questions still far outnumber the answers.