As the impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the U.S., extended school closures are an unavoidable reality for most communities. Most states have already made the call to keep schools closed through the end of the academic year and reopen in September. And when schools do reopen next school year, students and teachers will face a markedly different reality.
While the first schools in the U.S. to close in early March were in New York and Washington, governors in almost all the states moved swiftly in March and April to close schools as a crucial link in the chain of social distancing practices that slow the transmission of the virus. The good news (and it is very good news) is that social distancing measures seem to be working to slow the rate of infection. The bad news is...well, take your pick: Learning gaps, loneliness and entrenched inequality, to say nothing of the increased burdens on teachers and on parents.
President Trump tweets schools should reopen ASAP
On Memorial Day weekend President Trump tweeted "schools in our country should be opened ASAP." The President tagged Fox News and Steve Hilton, who had been speaking about the subject on the network just prior to the tweet.
A recent poll suggests about a third of Americans agree with the president. POLITICO/Morning Consult surveyed nearly 2,000 voters and found that while a third of voters think schools and childcare centers should reopen, 41% don't like the idea of classes resuming in September and 44% think day cares should remain closed.
Parents are worried about classes and childcare resuming, but they are also stressed without them. Motherly's third annual State of Motherhood survey found that not having childcare is a major source of stress for moms during this pandemic. A third (33%) of moms feel the hardest thing their kids are dealing with is no longer socializing with their friends. They are also most concerned with their family's mental health (31%) and nearly a quarter (23%) feel the hardest thing for their kids is a lack of structure/daily routine.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has previously urged caution when it comes to reopening schools.
"We really better be very careful, particularly when it comes to children, because the more and more we learn, we're seeing things about what this virus can do that we didn't see from the studies in China or in Europe—for example, right now children presenting with COVID-19 who actually have a very strange inflammatory syndrome, very similar to Kawasaki syndrome," Fauci stated earlier this month.
This is a complex issue and one thing is clear: When schools reopen in the United States there will be changes. In other countries where schools have reopened play, class time and drop-offs look different these days.
So when will schools reopen, and when will our kids go back to class?
The official answer depends on where you live, but in the vast majority of states, schools are not expected to reopen until the beginning of the next school year.
Education Week, which is keeping a running list of school closures by state across the country, reports:
"48 states, 4 U.S. territories, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) have ordered or recommended school building closures for the rest of the academic year, affecting approximately 50.8 million public school students."
Viral post breaks down the CDC's school reopening guidelines
By now you may have seen this frequently-shared post breaking down recommendations for school reopenings from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)—and for better or worse, it's mostly accurate, even though it is most definitely not an official communication from the CDC and oversimplifies some of the guidelines.
It's important to note that these recommendations will be put into practice in different ways in different communities, and your own school may look different when it reopens in the next school year.
Below is what the CDC has officially recommended, and why understanding the "official" guidelines can be so confusing.
CDC releases guidelines for reopening schools
Parents and kids alike are wondering what it will be like when schools reopen this fall, and states are beginning to make plans for how to reopen schools with an emphasis on health and safety.
As with other aspects of the nationwide reopening, deciding what guidelines schools should meet in order to reopen safely has been left largely up to states.
Adding to the confusion, there are three versions of government school-reopening guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in circulation: A detailed set of recommendations that was part of a draft document the White House rejected as being too restrictive, a series of "decision trees" for schools that were officially released on May 14, and then, finally, edited, detailed guidelines based on the CDC's earlier-drafted recommendations, which were quietly released this week on May 17.
Here's what the CDC's official guidelines for school reopenings recommend.
- Ensure that reopening is in line with local and state health guidelines.
- Have practices and guidelines in place to protect students and staff who are especially at risk.
- Be prepared to screen students and staff for symptoms and exposure history upon arrival.
Recommended health and safety practices to put in place:
- Training staff and teachers to prevent transmission of the virus and to recognize signs of illness.
- Promoting hand washing and healthy hygiene practices
- "Intensifying" cleaning, disinfection and ventilation
- Employees wearing cloth masks, "as feasible"
- Maintaining social distancing by increasing spacing and creating small groups that don't intermix
The CDC decision tree for reopening schools also calls for ongoing monitoring and communication with parents and the local community.
In addition, the detailed CDC recommendations for schools include these suggestions for classrooms and students:
- Cloth face coverings for staff, teachers and older students
- Frequent hand-washing
- Posting signs and messages about the importance of safe hygiene practices
- Supplying the school with soap, hand sanitizer, paper towels, no-touch trash cans and disinfecting wipes.
- Daily deep cleaning and disinfection, especially of high-touch areas
- Storing children's backpacks and other belongings separately
- Avoiding sharing of books, supplies or other learning materials
- Spacing desks 6 feet apart
- Turning desks to face in the same direction (rather than facing each other)
- Seating students on only one side of tables, spaced apart
- Spreading out children on buses
- Putting physical barriers and reminders in place, such as a plastic shield at the reception desk and floor markings showing safe distancing in halls, lines and other areas
- Grouping students and staff into small, consistent clusters to minimize exposure, and restricting mixing of groups
- Closing cafeterias and playgrounds
- Having children bring their own breakfasts and lunches as feasible, or serving individually plated meals in classrooms
- Virtual-only field trips and extracurricular activities
School districts may also put in place additional safety measures for reopening schools, such as alternating at-home and in-school instruction, updating the school calendar to include "catch-up" days and asking students and teachers to wear masks.
If there's a bright side to all this, it's that online educational platforms, educators, artists, media companies and technology companies have all united to help pull together a wealth of educational resources for kids learning at home. Kids are natural learners who learn through play and exploration—and there's no shortage of cool stuff online to explore these days.
As a mom (and Motherly contributor) who has been teaching her kids at home during the complete nationwide lockdown in Italy wisely put it:
"You can take your child out of school, but nothing can take away your child's natural curiosity and their ability to learn in whatever environment they find themselves in."
[This post was originally published April 1. This developing story continues to be updated.]
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