I’ve been thinking about what schools will look and must consider for a Fall opening. I understand the urge to get back to normal but we should know that we can’t. I’ve been trying to write this and have been frozen by writer’s paralysis. Every time I think about it I read a new article that shows the risk of opening early. South Korea and Beijing have opened and then closed schools due to outbreaks. This is happening in countries with strict protocols that are followed by the parents, teachers, and students. I read about the need to reduce the droplets that occur when we speak, and as our Prime Minister says, to avoid speaking moistly, and then think about what happens when we have a room with fans that would be necessary to blow air to keep us cool. I know in my own school temperatures of 32 C were not uncommon in some rooms and although our board is allowing cooling centres, this simply means that students are rotating through the rooms with air conditioning to keep cool.
When we do return there will be a need to focus on mental health. Connecting with students online is no substitute for face to face and we know some of students have closed off and opted out completely. Even in normal circumstances there are students who don’t engage and this crisis will have exacerbated this situation. As they say, Maslow before Bloom, so we can’t expect to hit the ground running and start at the same pace. We certainly can’t cover the same amount of material. There is a need to reduce the curriculum but keep increased focus on the arts. We need them now more than ever. I’d like to see smaller classes using an A/B day schedule. Group A goes Mon/Thurs and Group B goes Tues/Fri. Wednesday is reserved for contact with kids still at home and for extended cleaning. As we know, the lessons we delivered at the end of this year were not adequately prepared and not everyone was ready to pivot to online learning. We also saw the pitfalls of inequity in both materials and circumstance that made home learning unfair to most. Even when parents were home they had their own crisis to deal with and a regular schedule was impossible. An approach that uses blended learning requires that students receive instruction and then work independently for a time. Project-based and Inquiry-based learning allows for initial teaching/follow up check-in with students who then work at home. This also means a reduced emphasis on report card specifics. Teachers can’t and shouldn’t comment on strands in the same depth.
As for safety, PPE should be mandatory with clear expectations for wearing. If none, stay home and do distance learning. Expect that kids will willfully test this by removing, damaging, or sharing PPE, and physically encroaching with students and teachers. There is growing evidence that students may be more vulnerable than we previously thought and even if not, many of their teachers are in the at risk category. What about pregnant teachers and those with newborns at home? What about those with immune-compromised family members? Do we want people to carry the virus home and risk infection? Expect teachers and others to extend maternity leave or even take a leave of absence. What is the threshold for closing a school? A daycare?
Much of the day will be spent with procedures and safety and there will be more conversations about basic personal hygiene. Masks will be used as eye-patches, slingshots, sleeeping masks, and twirled around fingers. They will be lost, dropped, snapped, drawn on, and chewed.
What else? More caretakers. They were stretched under normal times. Plan for burnout and breaks for staff. Office admin will be fielding all kinds of questions that they have little time for. Perhaps reinstate nurses in schools? Office Administrators have been acting in that role unfairly. Do they have the qualifications to be out in that risky situation?
Recognize that supply teachers will be needed more than ever. If teachers/students get symptoms, will they be sent home to isolate? What is the policy? Should there be temperature checks with no-touch thermos? On entry?
My biggest concern is that I and others have spent time agonizing over this only to see people in stores who willfully violate personal space, don’t have any PPE, and eschew warning from science and the medical community as fiction at best and conspiracy at worst. Our government in Ontario is opening Daycare centres with open disregarded for their own threshold guidelines. There was little consultation and I wonder if this will be the model for schools opening. Will teachers be consulted at all? What do I do with all this stress? How can I be there for my students if I’m not ready. Maslow before Bloom is not just for kids.