Reopening Schools, the Need for Community Emphasis
Updated: Aug 13, 2020
Perhaps one of the most discussed topics in the current news cycle is the issue of reopening schools. As a teacher myself, I have my own opinions and personal concerns about staff across the country heading into the classroom this fall. All the uncertainty and what-ifs about the 2020/2021 school year are keeping many parents and school workers up at night. There’s one thing for sure: COVID-19 has exposed how crucial schools are to a functioning society. Factors that we must examine when discussing the reopening of schools include access to childcare, parental employment, and dependency on school meals to just name a few.
It’s no wonder people want a “normal” back-to-school schedule. On the surface parents want to know their children are engaged, active, and social throughout the day along with simply just wanting a break. However, there are layers of complexity that come with the decision of whether or not to open up schools (see listed factors above). No matter what a school district decides to do, there will be a price to pay and who pays the price will depend on the opening plan in addition to the infection rate in the surrounding area.
One point I want to make abundantly clear: No one is arguing that remote learning is better for a child’s educational growth than in-person learning. With presidential leadership best summarized by a Trump tweet that reads, “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL, ” districts are forced to make the tough choices alone, often under flagrantly careless management. Let’s also not forget schools shut down when the situation was far less dire across our country.
Republican governors from states like Florida, Iowa, and Missouri are adamant about fully opening up schools. In a recent St. Louis radio show interview, Governor Mike Parson stated, “These kids have got to get back to school.... And if they do get COVID-19, which they will — and they will when they go to school — they’re not going to the hospitals.... They’re going to go home and they’re going to get over it (1).”
With absolutely no consideration for school staff and no concern for the families these students will go home to, he’s made it clear that he's out of touch with the effects this illness has on communities. While he doesn’t speak for other Republican governors who mandate their schools fully open, he represents their sentiment. It’s shocking that this is the party of “pro life.” Sending hundreds or thousands of people in a building all day together when the threat of Covid-19 has not been mitigated is not the safest option, and if it’s not the safest then why is it under consideration.
Of course, most want students to return to the classroom and enjoy a regular school day. That being said, I hope those who oppose some degree of remote learning also consider what's safest for the students, staff, and community in your area. A handful of schools have already decided to go remote in the fall in hopes of slowing down the virus enough to open in the winter. One such example is Stevenson High School located in Lincolnshire, Illinois which houses more than 4,000 students. Some elementary schools have decided to do remote learning as well. Though, I fully understand the complications of having younger children learning online; it’s not as effective nor feasible for a young child to take complete ownership of their learning.
In my opinion, I think a large reason why we’re not seeing more districts choose exclusively remote learning is because they understand the burden it would put on so many families. As a country we are no longer on the same page when it comes to the fight against COVID-19. Because of how open everything is, there are some parents who have no choice but to send their children to school despite their fears. The workforce is slowly coming back to life and there are those who simply cannot leave their children home alone to handle their schooling. Should a district choose to do a hybrid model, there are similar concerns.
There is no textbook example of what a hybrid school schedule. A hybrid model carries all the “what-if” fears that comes with partially opening the school while also putting the burden on parents to figure out how to organize their child’s school life. How can we ask a parent who works five days a week, and relies on their children’s school to feed them meals, to be on such a hectic schedule? Some hybrid models may include class four times a week with remote learning on the other day but half days on Mondays. So much of our daily schedules are built around the school and work day; what happens if I can’t commit to staying at home once a week and losing pay? Not to mention there is still a large health risk to everyone involved.
Sadly, I am afraid we will see, yet again, low income and minority communities being impacted the most. While it’s nice that districts can choose their plans according to their community’s needs, I also think that there is going to be a negative impact no matter what happens. Therefore, the goal of the government should be to meet the needs of their communities by demonstrating empathy and thoughtfulness in their reopening plans.
Schools like Stevenson have a higher percentage of students who come from families where remote learning is an inconvenience, not a herculean effort. The challenge for state governments, then, is to work with local communities to find creative solutions that meet the needs of residents. This is a challenge, but that's the point of government: to execute plans that respond to the needs of their communities. And, if you don’t see this happening in your community, I hope you’re registered and ready to vote in November.