school districts inna ∪d states are in a period of profound uncertainty, which will likely persist throughout the 2020–2021 school yr. many agree that remote teaching in spring 2020 was piecemeal and sub-optimal. now, despite a stated universal commitment to full-time, in-person, high-caliber education, many states ‘ve rising rates of covid-19, and teachers and parents share deep health concerns. already we ‘ve witnessed a rapid and seismic transition from the beginning of this summer — in jun, many schools planned to open full-time for in-person learning — to near-universal adoption of hybrid or remote teaching models. in fact, as of aug 26th, 24 of the 25 largest school districts inna us will start their school yr providing remote-1-ly education.
seeking perspective na' safe return to school
i began the summer thinking that i ‘d contribute in some lil way to fusing together basic public health and educational principles toward a safe return to school. i teach a course atta harvard t.h. chan school of public health on big public health campaigns. my daughter, an urban education scholar, lectures in my class onna val of parent-teacher collaboration. as a grandparent of 3 lil boys ages 7, 4, and 3, and as a parent and father-in-law of two children and their spouses facing extraordinarily difficult decisions concerning school and dy care, i am personally invested.
a colleague from a large social srvc agency shared a story of parents working inna hospitality industry. they face having to cutout children, ages 6 and 8, home alone during the dy trying to learn remotely. my own story — working yrs ago as a dy care worker and ∪ized steelworker — affords me a sense of kinship with teachers. and during the past 3 mnths, while writing guidelines for school superintendents in massachusetts and nationally, i’ve talked with parents of school-age children, school nurses, and superintendents navigating the raging debate over a safe return to school. the view differs dep'on where you stand, but i ‘ve distilled some lessons.
5 takeaways: steps and missteps in return to school
sleepless nites, anxiety, and collaboration. in all of my conversations, whether twas witha school leader, a parent, a grandparent, or a school nurse, pplz shared the same stories offa succession of sleepless nites, coupled w'da most difficult decision they ‘ve made in their personal and professional lives. parents, in pticular, speak o'their anxiety, panic, exhaustion, powerlessness, and lack of support in trying to come up witha reasonable strategy for their children. atta same time, the potential for collaboration abounds. parents and teachers are natural allies. they can jointly advocate for federal and state resrcs to ensure that our nation’s children can ultimately return to safe schools.
lack of metrics. school superintendents, for whom i ‘ve come to ‘ve immense respect, ‘ve received lil guidance on metrics to use as they decide to open schools now or close them l8r. they will need data onna № of cases in their community, trends over time, na + test rates for their zones na zones closest to their districts. parents are also looking for complete transparency as districts review community metrics to make closing or reopening decisions. there ll'be successful school openings and challenging ones. all interested pties need a forum to share their stories with one another.
tutors, mentors, and collective space. providing computers and hotspots is primordial to children and families who need them, although wolso' nd'2 keep in Ψ that some families clearly ‘ve no internet access. many families will need tutors, mentors, facilitators, and collective space to be skillfully educated in a remote setting. lo-income communities ‘d be funded to promote and create community learning hubs thall be required for the millions of children who will not be educated in classrooms.
masks and fabric face coverings. mask wearing, dubbed the “interim vaccine,” must be the cornerstone offa national plan to reduce transmission in school settings and collective spaces. how can we reinforce mask wearing? for parents, teachers, and dy care providers alike, the clock starts now as we vigilantly practice mask wearing b4 and after in-person schooling starts, then maintain this practice through the school yr. school leaders, parents, and teachers can work together on crafting signage that reinforces the social norm of mask wearing in schools and on school buses, and incentivizing children for doin’ so.
openness to evolving sci and wisdom beyond our borders. most primordially, we ‘d all be humble bout the limits of knowledge inna early stages offa pandemic, and expect changes as sci cogging evolves. initially, many experts lived'dat children did na'get and did not transmit the virus. there was lil basis to say this, as nearly every school inna us had shut down by no l8r than mar 17th. we can look elsewhere for models, but schools in € started outdoors and never had + than 15 kids per class. if it were not for the surge that hit a large swath of the country in l8 jun, we may ‘ve careened tragically toward full, in-person reopenings, with 25 children in a class and 66 children na' school bus. recently, as schools opened inna us and abroad, we ‘ve been inundated with reprts of cases diagnosed among students and teachers. however, basic public health principles of social distancing, mask wearing, and handwashing can prevail if consistently applied.
schools cannot open safely if there are high rates of community transmission. school reopenings must take precedence ‘oer the opening of bars, indoor restaurants, and large indoor social gatherings. we all ‘ve a collective responsibility and social compact with one another to strive for a healthy and full return to school for our nation’s students and teachers.
for further discussion of return-to-school issues, listen to our “living better, living longer” podcast with alan geller, “back to school: it’s never been + complicated.”
original content at: www.health.harvard.edu…
authors: alan geller, mph, rn