By Michael Arjona
Assistant Head of School for Academics
As school administrators, we have been immersed in the process of planning for the 2020-2021 school year.
There is guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), local and state public health departments, White House plans for reopening, departments of education, and the American Association of Pediatrics, among others. We have been talking with schools across the country and even internationally, as many other countries have had students back in school already. That is our role as full-time educators planning for how we will teach and care for students in this pandemic.
At the same time, as a parent, you are flooded with information about COVID-19 to go along with your day-to-day career and family life. It is a tall task for parents to absorb the guidance from so many authorities when making decisions for their child in such an uncertain time.
There is an opportunity for us to help parents sort through the information and ask the right questions since we have been immersed in research and planning. While our job is to work with our students and families in The Walker School community, we realize that all families at all schools are faced with decisions about the fall, and we would like to make our small contribution to helping families outside of our school community.
We feel strongly that no family should have to compromise either the safety of their child or the quality of their child’s education, and we hope this document can help equip you to ask the right questions to advocate for your child.
What to look for in your school or district’s reopening plan:
Is your school’s plan realistic? Ensure that your school is being realistic about the options for this school year and is prepared for all modes of education, including the potential for additional remote learning. While The Walker School remains optimistic, preparation relies on realistic expectations and avoidance of wishful thinking.
Is your school focused on implementing safety interventions with the highest impact? Health experts agree that the three most important and effective interventions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are wearing face coverings, physical distancing, and frequent hand washing. Check whether your school will be requiring face coverings for students and faculty to protect others from asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic spread. Ask whether your school has a specific plan for how to distance students during class (like class size limits) or in other indoor spaces rather than just saying it will take place “when possible.”
Are your school’s safety protocols focused on the science of how the virus transmits? Health authorities and medical professionals have found COVID-19 transmits primarily through respiratory droplets and less often through touching surfaces (though it is still a factor). While cleaning protocols are important, there should be a particular focus on the safety protocols that prevent respiratory transmission (face coverings, physical distancing, utilizing outdoor spaces, etc.).
Is your school’s plan flexible? Given the uncertainty around this year and the likelihood of additional waves of infection in our communities, look for schools to have a plan for how they would transition between different modes of learning.
What is the plan if there is a COVID-19 case at school? How will quarantined students continue learning? Given the number of people involved in each school community and the rate of infection, it is likely that community members will test positive for COVID-19 or come in contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. Additionally, students who get sick with typical childhood infections (strep throat, flu, etc.) will likely be out of school for a longer period of time as medical professionals and schools take additional precautions. Therefore, ask what the plan will be for students who get sick or must quarantine for two weeks or more. Ensure that there is a specific plan for how students will keep up with their learning.
How will your school’s remote learning plan be better than the spring? All schools went into emergency remote learning this past spring. Though most schools hope to have students in person this school year, ask how the school’s plan for remote learning will be improved from this spring. Look for schools to prioritize live (synchronous) sessions and have a plan for how to support students when they do not have the benefit of daily face-to-face interaction.
What support is being provided for students from a social-emotional perspective? Our children have been through an unprecedented amount of disruption this spring and summer. As we plan for students’ continued learning, school and district plans should not lose sight of the student-to-student connections support and faculty interaction that has been missing or diminished the past several months.
Some schools or districts are asking parents to choose between a fully in-person school experience this fall and a fully remote learning environment. If faced with that choice, here are questions to consider:
Are you comfortable with the safety protocols that have been specified (see the bullet points above)? Focus on what the school commits to doing rather than what they recommend.
How long are you committing to remote learning if you opt for that choice? The whole semester? The whole school year? Can you move back to the in-person experience if conditions improve or if remote learning does not work well for your child?
How important is the community and social connection of a typical school day to your child?
Will your child be able to participate in extracurricular activities (sports, arts, clubs) if they opt for the full online experience?
Did your child enjoy remote learning in the spring? Consider that remote learning this fall may be more difficult because students will not have built an in-person connection with their teachers like they were able to do this past school year.
Is your child self-directed and organized enough to stick to an online schedule? Is your child willing to advocate for themselves and reach out to their teacher over email when they have a question about the material?
If you would like to read more, below is a small sample of the sources we at The Walker School have used in creating our plan to return to school in August. It is important to rely on expert guidance during these uncertain times when so many perspectives are polarized.
We want to be a resource in any way we can for both our Walker community and the wider community of parents and students to ensure that parents are able to make informed decisions for the safety and educational experience of their children.
Sources for more information: