Photo by Healthline
It has been nine months since US schools have closed down in March. During the 2019-2020 school year, schools did not resume in-person instruction and continued to navigate through remote learning. However, after observation and learning what works best, administrators have formulated more structured and advanced plans for the 2020-2021 school year. Many schools are trying their best to create plans that focus on providing and utilizing the best resources for students to be able to continue distance learning, while also receiving a quality education. Several schools have been moving forward as far as integrating back to in-person instruction. But with the rise of COVID-19 cases and the lack of resources some schools provide to their students, the remainder of the school year remains uncertain and will be planned out cautiously.
Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, announced this Sunday that he plans on reopening public elementary schools. However, he plans to keep middle schools and high schools closed. As of now, students will be returning to campus on December 7, abandoning the 3 percent test positivity threshold that was implemented before this new system. The positivity rate has reached 3.9% as of Sunday, yet he says he wants “this to be the plan going forward” as they work hard to bring them back safely. Both Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and de Blasio have faced criticism from parents who are worried about their children. But, as de Blasio mentions, “we know what works from actual experience”, and New York City is making their best efforts to bring back their students as safe as possible.
In the Bay Area, the transition back to in-person instruction has been slower in order to ensure the safest way for children to attend school. Although many schools in the Bay Area are not returning back to campus, some are practicing in-person instruction and implementing precautions and regulations. This includes wearing masks, social distancing, setting up hand washing stations, installing good ventilation, and creating pod groups to limit the exposure to others. Even some are holding conditioning for athletics after school a few times a week. Although some schools in the Bay Area are reopening, mainly private schools, most schools are not. In San Francisco specifically, “The district’s answer is that it is not ready to reopen.”
In Baltimore, Maryland, Ms. Hellman, a 26 year old kindergarten teacher, talks about her experience returning to in-person instruction. With “More than 70,000 schoolchildren” who “left Baltimore classrooms in March”, this reopening leaves both families and staff unsure about what is to come. Ms. Hellman explains that her students for the most part are fairly good at remembering to keep their mask on as to stay away from the “bad germ” - as one student calls it. Assessment rooms are cleaned every day on the hour, every hour. She mentions that “Her only concern was that her remote learners were missing the banter and nonverbal cues her students were getting in the classroom.” But, after the first day of returning to campus with only 6 students, the next day there were an extra 19 students who were previously learning virtually.
The spike in the number of COVID-19 cases due to holiday gatherings creates a blocking figure for educators and families, influencing their plans to return. With the coming few weeks, the plans will become a little clearer, but will still remain very uncertain as we dive into an unknown future. As schools are returning, they are implementing rules like wearing a mask, doing frequent and rigorous COVID testing, installing good ventilation systems, maintaining 6 feet apart, washing hands and sanitizing often, cleaning areas daily, staying in pods, and attending in-person instruction only a few times a week. The main drives to return to campus are the social interaction and the more accessibility and availability of resources, both for receiving help on classwork/homework and for students who don’t have access to online learning devices, that are just not obtainable at home.
If the spike in COVID cases results in schools being forced to shut down again or schools remaining to be closed, this could leave a devastating impact on students who do not have access to online learning devices. As Maria Su, executive director of San Francisco’s Department of Children, says, “We have children who are missing 90 assignments”, which unquestionably demonstrates the need to provide an equitable education to all students, first starting off with giving them online learning devices to continue school virtually.
This year to come, we will be venturing into something very new, just as we have been in the past few months. But from experience, learning how to take advantage of resources, and finding solutions to issues blocking students and staff from receiving and providing quality education, we can take our first few steps in moving forward.