There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding whether our schools will reopen come fall and what that reopening will look like. My wife is a teacher, and not a day goes by without some guessing and discussion about whether there will be e-learning or changes to classrooms.
Make no mistake, there will be changes. No one knows for sure what those changes are, yet, but there is already work being done to maximize the learning available to students during the pandemic.
What do we need to reopen?
In Illinois, Governor Pritzker’s plan allows the reopening of schools in Phase 4 (we are entering Phase 3 as of May 29, 2020). But that Phase still includes masks, social distancing, and a limit on gatherings of greater than 50 people.
In order to get to Phase 4, there has to be a continued decline in the rate of infection. Testing will need to commonplace, and contact tracing will be a must. You can see more details on Phase 4 here.
But entering Phase 4 is not the only hurdle. There are also teachers’ unions to contend with. The Chicago Teachers’ Union is already planning on how they will bargain over the reopening procedures (article here). Their emphasis is on the safety of their members, with a focus on smaller class sizes and the addition of hand-washing stations.
What changes will students see?
There are no definitive answers about how schools will change. Many solutions have been offered to avoid the large class sizes and close contact between students and teachers.
Some things are given: masks, daily cleaning regimens, and distance between students.
Children may not change classrooms, which reduces the interaction between them. Lunch, recess, and PE probably won’t exist. My guess is that most, if not all, after school programs will be canceled including sports and band.
Los Angeles County just released parts of its plans for reopening schools (article here). Their focus was on reduced socialization among students. There will be no sports, no gathering for lunch, and one-way hallways.
There is even the talk of AM/PM schedules where some students go to school for the morning and some for the afternoon. That would remove the need to have lunch at school and reduce the overall number of students in the building at one time.
The article painted a pretty grim picture of what school should be. But that’s the world we’re living in. With experts suggesting that we could see a resurgence of COVID in the fall, I think the most likely scenario is more e-learning from home.
The other reason we could see e-learning this fall is the reduced safety precautions we’re seeing in other states can bleed into Illinois. Meaning, if Wisconsin opens up too soon or without proper safeguards, it could mean more cases here necessitating closures in the next few months.
What does this mean for parents?
E-learning has certainly been challenging for most parents. Working from home, juggling our own responsibilities while helping our children with school has been our lives for the last 10 weeks. There is very real concern that we will see more of it come fall.
Whether schools are entirely e-learning come fall or they are on a split schedule with e-learning days mixed with in-person learning, this will continue to be a problem for parents. In fact, I suspect the problem will be worse.
Why? Because we won’t be working from home anymore.
Don’t get me wrong, some companies are going entirely to work-from-home solutions, but that is not a viable option for all businesses. Even the practice of law requires some things to be handled face-to-face. How will we handle the strange schedule that could be forced upon us by our school system?
We close schools during pandemics to protect children, for sure. But there is another reason for the closing of schools: it keeps parents home. But now we are trying to revitalize our economy and keeping schools closed may have the added impact of keeping parents home and out of work.
How will businesses reopen to original capacity? How will wages be earned (wages that we need pumped back into the economy)? And how will we make stuff? At some point do schools become an anchor for our economy, holding us back when we so desperately need to move forward?
Daycare is, unfortunately, not a solution. Most daycare facilities are under the same restrictions as schools. We can’t limit the number of students in school only to have them crammed into a daycare facility. That would defeat the purpose.
Of course, our safety and the safety of our children are top priorities, but we need to find solutions to these potential problems. Luckily, we have three months to figure it out. I think the movement in Phase 3 will bring some much-needed data about the growth of the virus once we lift restrictions.