Goodbye, field trips and perfect attendance awards. Hello, one-way hallways, daily temperature checks and quarantine rooms.
That’s some of what we can look ahead to now that Gov. J.B. Pritzker gave his approval last week for schools in Illinois to reopen for in-class instruction this fall, encouraging schools to welcome back kids and staff under detailed state guidelines aimed at keeping them safe.
In Chicago’s new normal, there will be face masks on everyone over 2, bans on handshakes and any other touching, tons of hand-washing and six-feet social distancing requirements in classrooms, on playgrounds and everywhere else at school. Everyone who enters school buildings will get temperature checks, too.
But how that all will work and what the rest of school is going to look like are among the things still to be decided by school districts in the city, suburbs and statewide as schools face the realities of welcoming back to classrooms kids who are likely to be behind academically after learning from home all spring.
“The COVID-19 crisis shook our structures of teaching and learning to the core, but we have now an opportunity to emerge stronger and to make lasting changes in the ways we support, teach, connect with and value each of the 2 million students in our care,” says a 63-page report from the Illinois State Board of Education. “This return to school is not ‘business as usual’ but rather the convergence of a new reality in educational excellence in Illinois.”
I’m often asked if I think schools and universities really will reopen. I kinda dodge it by saying if the state regresses from Phase 4, then obviously not. But if we keep the flatline going, then yes. Whether they can stay open is the real question.
* Some will certainly become infected. For instance, the San Francisco Bay area has done a remarkable job controlling the virus. Even so…
More than 40 school principals in the South Bay are in quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19 during an in-person meeting held by the Santa Clara Unified School District.
* Some regions may spike again, like this one in Missouri…
The Scott County R-4 School District announced all of their facilities will be closed to students for the next two weeks due to a recent surge in COVID-19 cases in southeast Missouri.
* Kids will on occasion be really stupid…
Students in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 have been attending parties in the city and surrounding area as part of a disturbing contest to see who can catch the virus first, a city council member told ABC News on Wednesday.
Tuscaloosa City Councilor Sonya McKinstry said students have been organizing “COVID parties” as a game to intentionally infect each other with the contagion that has killed more than 127,000 people in the United States. She said she recently learned of the behavior and informed the city council of the parties occurring in the city.
She said the organizers of the parties are purposely inviting guests who have COVID-19.
“They put money in a pot and they try to get COVID. Whoever gets COVID first gets the pot. It makes no sense,” McKinstry said. “They’re intentionally doing it.”
* But it comes down to this advice from two epidemiologists…
So as the summer gets started, it might seem easy to argue that schools must open for normal business this fall. But we can’t overlook the potential for transmission in the school setting, which can only be reduced and not eliminated. Some tools to reduce that risk definitely work: distancing, hand-washing, mask use, testing and effective tracing and isolation of contacts if a case is found. Yet even as they plan for how to operate safely in person, school systems around the country are also preparing now for how to make online learning work well if they have to shut down again in the event of a large fall surge and extensive community transmission that once again threatens to overwhelm hospitals.
We can avoid that, and keep schools open, if we shift our priorities.
If we want schools to open in a few months and stay open, we need to keep community transmission low. The best way to do that is to suppress the spread of the virus. That means looking at what is reopening and when, and figuring out whether those sectors of the economy are really more important than schools. All reopening will likely increase community transmission to some degree.
So what are we all willing to give up to keep in-person education on the agenda? Can you forgo a night out at a bar or a trip to a casino? Can you give up dining inside a restaurant? What are you willing to give up to ensure that school openings don’t wind up pushing us over the edge? What are we willing to sacrifice? We need to decide where our priorities as a community lie, and in a way we can all support — whether we are ourselves parents, teachers or neither. We need to face this threat together.
* College campuses are trying to reopen in the fall. The main source of opposition? The faculty.