Before we try to answer the question of whether we should open or not, let’s turn to the
CDC guidelines for schools to reopen. The guidelines are extensive, so I'll summarize, but I encourage you to read the list in its entirety:
- social distancing—all desks 6 feet apart, social distancing in halls and on buses, keep all desk facing in one direction, even seat students in one direction at tables
- close all “communal shared areas” – playgrounds, cafeterias, gym locker rooms, and erect plastic barriers between restroom sinks
- “cloth face coverings” should be worn by staff and students – even the CDC admits this may be a challenge, especially getting younger children to wear a face mask all day.
- staggered schedules – including arrival and drop-off times, even possibly staggered class schedules
- serve prepackaged individual meals – have children eat at their desk in the classroom, schools may also require students to bring lunch from home
- no field trips – use virtual activities, limit visitors and volunteers
- have students bring their own water bottles to minimize use of water fountains
- avoid sharing – art supplies, pencils, electronics, library books, toys
- clean and disinfect frequently – door handles, water faucets, buses, classrooms
- post signs and show videos – to show how to properly wash hands and how to properly wear a face mask
- screen all students and staff daily for Covid-19
This extensive list still doesn’t answer the question: Should we or should we not reopen? There is no one simple answer or blueprint to follow. This is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Let’s turn to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for his advice: “…it’s always related to the level of activity of the virus….”
Are You Sure That We Should Open Schools in the Fall?
Not everyone agrees that we should. Some school districts and colleges have made the decision to keep classes online in the fall. To some extent, we must wait to see what the state of the coronavirus is in the fall. So, we cannot simply say, “open the doors; school is back in session.” Yes, we must plan. We cannot just sit down and wait to see what happens, but as we consider the difficulty of reopening school, we must also answer, “should we?”
Three Reasons that we should not open schools in the fall
I’ll give three reasons why we should not open schools in the fall. I stated in previous blog posts that group or classroom style teaching is better than online or remote teaching. At present, however, online education is safer for our children. Safety is a good reason to not reopen schools in the fall.
First reason that should keep us from opening schools in the fall is safety. We must ask: Is it Safe?
Let’s go to the experts first. Dr. Aaron E, Carroll, Associate Dean professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine said that,
“U. S. schools cannot safely reopen until public health officials find ways to identify and treat people infected with Covid 19.”
Yes, you can find many people who will say “the numbers are going down and everything is fine.” Really? According to Johns Hopkins University, there were 21,140 new cases of coronavirus in the United States on June 4th.
Statista Research and Analysis stated that “Approximately 27,900 new cases of Covid-19 were reported in the United states on June 18, 2020.”
We are a long way from winning the battle against coronavirus. Yes, some states are seeing a bit of relief, but other places are seeing definite spikes.
So, safety is definitely a major concern and reason to question whether school should reopen in the fall.
Many parents are worried about the health and safety of their children if schools reopen in the fall. According to one survey, 60% of K-12 parents said they would not be sending their children back to school in the fall; instead they would be seeking online options.
Yes, there are others saying, “please hurry up; open the schools.”
I understand that parents need to go back to work, and to do so, many parents need the schools to reopen. Yet, need doesn’t answer the safety question.
In all of these discussions, are we really critically evaluating what is best for the children?
We must remember that when we are discussing safety, children get sick too.
What about the children who are still getting sick from coronavirus complications, and what about the children who have died? New York alone reported 161 cases of mysterious pediatric links with coronavirus.
More: Should We Pretend It's OK to Open the Schools?
Harvard Medical School published an article stating:
“Children, including very young children, can develop Covid-19…. A complication that is more recently been observed in children can be severe and dangerous. Called multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), it can lead to life-threatening problems with the heart and other organs in the body. Early reports compare it to Kawasaki disease, an inflammatory illness that can lead to heart problems.”
Many teenagers have also been found to have the symptoms. Hundreds of cases have been registered from across the nation. Definite health dangers lie in the path of reopening in the fall.
Do we turn a blind eye to these problems and just say, “I don’t care any more? I’m tired of being stuck in the house. I cannot deal with another day of homeschooling.”
We need to face the facts. Coronavirus is not a hoax. Coronavirus is real, and it is dangerous.
We must also face that there are health risks involved with reopening the schools. The question is: Are the benefits worth the risks?
The second reason that we should consider not opening schools in the fall is mental health.
Everyone warns that school will not be the same as when it closed in March. Students and teachers will be faced with a completely different approach to classroom education. Many schools are contemplating to have some students attend a morning session and other students attend an afternoon session. Other may have students attend on alternate days. Neither of these plans explains what is to be done with children when they are not attending school on their scheduled day or time.
Confusion and uncertainty usually lead to fear. As one parent stated, “I don’t want my kid sitting alone in a square on the playground shouting to his friends through a muffled sounding mask….”
Children are often anxious about going back to school in the fall. The changes and restrictions required at school this fall for their safe return will increase this anxiety, but the question is: Would returning to school in the fall with all the problems and restrictions be psychologically better for children than staying home and continuing for another year with online education?
No one can actually answer that question. We do not have the experience or knowledge to say exactly how children will react if school reopens.
Most school systems are saying that, even if they return to school in the fall, classroom education will incorporate online or remote learning. So, we most likely have both problems to deal with.
Students will not be returning to school as it once was. If schools reopen in the fall, school classrooms, by necessity, will be different.
As a psychologist, I believe that we will have some children and teens who adapt and cope with the changes. I also think we will have some children and teens who will not do well with the changes. The question is, Will we be alert to their needs? Will we notice when they are struggling? Will we understand why they are afraid? How will we help them cope?
Each child or teenager is different. Each student’s fear will be different. Each problem will need to be handled on an individual basis. There will be no group solution.
I do know that, regardless of whether we returned to school in the fall or whether we continue with online education, we must consider the mental health of our children, teenagers, and teachers. We have many children and teens suffering from the closure of school this spring. What have we done about their fears? So far, nothing.
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) offer some excellent advice. I’ll summarize the article but encourage you to go and read the entire article:
- The NASP suggests that parents and teachers become role models. Children do learn from your example; therefore, how are you handling your fears?
- The NASP advises to be aware of how you talk about Covid-19. Yes, it is very important to talk with your child or teenager, but the way you talk with them can either increase their fear or calm their fears. Be positive. Remember to listen to what they have to say and then respond with truth. There are a lot of opinions floating around. Some are healthy, some are not. It is always best to share the facts. Listen to the scientist and the doctors, not the politicians.
- The NASP says that you need to explain social distancing. Children do not understand exactly why they should sit 6 feet apart or not touch and play on the playground or not sit at the lunch table sharing and swapping food. Explain that school will be different for a while. Ask your child how they feel about these differences. Let children and teens share their feelings.
- The NASP encourages everyone to focus on the positive. Cherish the extra time you have together as a family. Plan something special. It doesn’t need to cost money.
- The NASP says that parents and teachers should identify projects that might help others. Giving to others has always been one of the healthiest ways to help yourself. Send positive messages. Call others on the phone. Skype with those you haven’t seen for a while. Plan a project to help others in your community, those in need, those who are struggling. Helping someone else really will help you.
- The NASP says that everyone should offer lots of love and affection. This should be something we do every day. Regardless of whether we are in the middle of a pandemic or enjoying the happiest of days, we should always share love and affection. Add it to your daily schedule. Children and teens particularly need this added love and affection in these stressful times.
The third reason that we should consider not opening schools in the fall is the quality of education.
You read the CDC’s list above of what we need to do to safely reopen school in the fall, but can we teach under that much pressure on safety compliance?
Yes, I know there is also a question about the quality of education that has been delivered through on-line education. So, which is better?
On-line distance learning this spring has not been classified as successful.
In their report, The Return: How Should Education Leaders Prepare for Reentry and Beyond? compiled by CHIEFS for Change and the Institute for Education Policy at Johns Hopkins University School of Education, we read that
“In the midst of the pandemic, the majority of schools and systems are struggling to provide rigorous, grade-level learning; …. Many students will finish the school year academically behind—some, substantially so. Suggestions abound, from holding all kids back a year, to designating “half-year” status; from summer school in 2020, to an extended school year in 2021.”
So, what should we do?
My own research shows that retaining students doesn’t work [see my blog post from 5-14-20]. Half-year status would create the same problems as retention. Both of those ideas should be scratched off the list. Summer school would be extremely hard to pull off this summer and has been proven only to be effective when you have a highly qualified teacher, excellent curriculum, and strong attendance. Furthermore, many believe that even a “well-crafted” summer school program cannot offset the learning deficits of low-income students this year. The Return report went on to state that:
“Intensive summer programming in 2020 will not compensate for COVID-19 learning losses.”
Extending the school year will require the same restructuring of facilities and schedules as reopening in the fall.
Extending the school year does not answer such questions as:
- the cost of reopening – making school facilities safe for reopening is going to cost money because schools were not designed to accommodate social distancing – where will the money come from?
- managing flexible schedules – school attendance may need to be staggered and distance learning may become a permanent part of the classroom schedule which could mean that parents need to be home part of the time because students will be working at home as well as at school – what do you do with students whose parents must work?
- smaller class sizes – having small mentoring groups of less than 12, crowded hallways will also be a problem – middle school and high school students may be required to stay in one classroom rather than switching classes – where do you put the extra students?
Therefore, we are back where we started. We have online education that has not worked for many students this spring during the coronavirus pandemic. We have reopening plans that seem impossible at best and not financially feasible. We have parents needing to go to work and students who need to learn.
Yet, we must remember that simply sending students back to school will not guarantee that they learn. Schools were in academic trouble before the pandemic.
More: Reading scores were worse in 2019 than they were in 2017
Our educational system needs a total overhaul.
Will classroom teaching quality be questionable even if we reopen? Is there any way to help students?
As I said above, most schools have stated that their reopening plan will probably include both distance and in-person learning. Some even suggest that each student, not just the special needs students, will need an individualized educational plan. This plan will incorporate transportation, learning needs, specific goals for the year, social and emotional supports needed, and a way to coordinate between the home and school schedule.
Other educators point out the need for very strong teachers.
“Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy, wrote in 2018, ‘The strongest education research finding in the last twenty years is that the quality of a teacher is the single greatest in school determinate of student outcomes.’ A high-quality teacher not only bolsters students’ academic success in the short term, but also their economic productivity and social wellbeing in the long term. ‘High-quality’ means, among other things, holding students to high standards. Research continues to affirm…that teachers matter.”
Having a positive relationship with a teacher can help a student alleviate fears, develop a stronger motivation to learn, feel a sense of satisfaction with how they are learning, while helping to reduce anxiety, disruptive behavior, and anger over the changes that the coronavirus pandemic has brought about.
A strong teacher can also make the difference in whether a child learns or does not learn. Regardless whether students are learning online or in an adjusted classroom in the fall, excellent teaching will be required. Students also need excellent curriculum. No more merely sending home a stack of worksheets. We have time this summer, and we need to be getting ready for fall.
As Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon said,
“We’re not sure that [school building closure] is not something that we’re going to revisit in the fall or the winter…. I’m really focusing much of our resources on the expansion and accountability wrapped around online learning and distance learning.”
Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of Washington, echoed the same concerns.
“Short of a vaccine, which people continue to tell us is 12 to 18 months away, we have to figure out if it’s safe to come back even in the fall…. I already have to start thinking about how to continue to strengthen our online model, which is gotten exponentially better over the last two weeks but there’s a lot of work to go.”
There isn’t one single answer. There are those who believe we should reopen school in the fall. There are those who believe we should continue with online education. There are those who believe we will end up with a combination of the two.
What should we do?
I believe we should be restructuring our educational program. We need to improve quality. We need to improve teaching. We need to improve our curriculum. I’m in the middle of writing a list of 20 reasons why reading scores were worse in 2019 than in previous years. Each of the reasons listed so far explain a problem that we have in our educational system, a problem that is causing reading failure, a problem that we can change by correcting how we teach. Regardless whether we teach online or in the classroom, we need a new educational approach.
I believe we also need to be prepared to teach through online education in the fall. I do not believe that reopening the schools will work. We must be ready this time. We can’t just assume that reopening schools will solve all of our problems.
While we wait for decisions to be made, I offer Part 3 of my suggestions for free education resource materials.
Part 3: Free Educational Resources
I always try to suggest free resources that you may turn to. This week I’m into reading. See Part 1 of this ongoing list on my blog on 5-24-20. Part 2 of this list may be found on my blog for 6-2-20.
For me, summer means extra time to read. I hope that it does for your child or teen as well. I found an interesting site this week that includes stories for multiple ages.
I particularly like this one about the raindrop, entitled Do What You Can.
If you do not find a story that your child can read to you, remember, it is wonderful to sit down and read to your child. Spending time together is the best gift you can ever give to any child or teenager. Yes, teenagers still need time and love as well.
Here’s also a story written by a child. You might use this story to encourage your own child to write about a personal incident or to create a fictional story. Sometimes writing about problems can be the best therapy. Encourage your child or teen to write or to just talk about their concerns, their fears, or times when they have felt that no one cared. This week has been a truly difficult week. Families need to talk, need to share, need to show that they care for one another and those around them.