You are an essential worker! If I have to be at work, then you have to be at work.”
“One student or teacher death due to COVID is one too many!”
“Going to school is what is best for kids. My daughter misses her friends and is depressed. Just keep the kids apart.”
“There should be a memorial page in the yearbooks this year for the students and teachers who died because we reopened school too early.”
“Everyone is going to wear a mask so everyone will be safe.”
The topic of returning to school has been hotly debated. The above quotes are things that I have seen or said to me by others on the topic of reopening schools. I truly do not know what the best option is and do not envy those who have this gargantuan decision to make. Is it even possible for there to be one right solution for everyone?
At the time I sat down to write this blog post, my school district plans to return in person with physical distancing implemented on October 26, 2020. This date has changed several times, so it is possible that it will change again. Students have the option to continue with online learning, so there will likely be some students who continue on with online learning this year. When this post gets published, I imagine that new procedures for returning to school will have been added, some may be removed or adjusted, or that I even forgot to include some in this post. One thing is clear to me: The schools we left in the spring are not the same schools we are returning to this fall.
The various committees at my school have been working nonstop, and even outside of contracted hours at times, to figure out what social distancing will look like upon our return to school, anticipate behaviors that we might encounter with students, and how we can support each other, how to support parents and families, what our classrooms and the school day might end up looking like, and many more things that I am sure I have not heard about yet.
The district has ordered personal protective equipment (PPE) for students and staff. Our students will have masks to wear, and teachers will have to wear both masks and face shields. There are dividers for classrooms with tables, and classrooms with desks will need to be spaced 6 feet apart. Hallways will become one way, and there will be social distancing markers around bathrooms, lunch lines, etc. to keep students physically distant. These ideas and procedures are things that I have seen and experienced on the rare occasions I go out and about. However, I cannot help but wonder if children as young as 5 or 6 years old are able to make sense of this “new normal” on their own when they need to leave class to use the restroom; in the lunchroom sitting 6 feet apart from their friends; or when they are sitting in class during their regular recess time outside; when their teacher with a pre-existing condition becomes visibly upset when a student removes their mask without social distancing.
The pandemic has not been easy for our students or their families. One committee of teachers that has been meeting at my school has been trying to anticipate and prepare for the social-emotional needs of our students and to ease the transition back into school. With so much more time at home than usual summer, the transition back to school will likely be more difficult than usual, especially since school is going to look and feel different than the school that our students are used to. There are virtual “vacations” our students will take since they cannot physically visit their regular “vacation teacher” when they need a break from their regular classroom like they have been able to in the past. Another committee is working on how we can support our parents, and put them at ease about having their child at school or working through online schooling with their child.
The majority of students at my school take the bus, so the bus schedule will look different this year. The school day will start later than normal to accommodate for two bus drop off times. The same is true at the end of the day – we are ending earlier and there will be two dismissals. Lunch is different than it has been, as well as going to specials and recess, walking in the hallway, and the amount of time that our students will spend washing their hands. I know that this list only skims the surface of what the new school day will look like.
These changes have been a lot to take in. Tensions are high, and many people are feeling very emotional, whatever type of emotion that may be, about returning to school. But, one thing I did not hear from any of these virtual meetings is complaints from teachers. Everything that was shared was focused on finding a solution instead of dwelling on the negative. Most importantly, conversations are based on what is going to be the best option for students. So while I try my best to prepare for this school year, whether it is in person or online, I know that the amazing and positive teachers at my school are one thing that will put the odds in our favor in this impossible situation.