It is no news that COVID-19 has impacted our lives in so many ways. It has touched everyone, parents, children and grandparents. It has affected every facet of our lives, schools, businesses, worship places, travels and social interactions. No one ever thought we would be talking, thinking or even dreaming about COVID-19 in 2020. Our whole lives have been upended by the dreaded monster-COVID-19, and it is yet to slow down.
Considering this, Nigerian Parents Magazine decided to take our readers through some of the expectations and changes that will occasion the resumption of schools in the fall of 2020. If nothing is certain, we are certain that schools will not remain the same, as we know it pre-COVID-19. There are lots of changes that have been put in place or are being put in place in many school districts across the nation. There are equally several negotiations that are ongoing in different states between the state governments, school districts and teachers unions on the safe and acceptable modalities for return to school in the fall.
In California and Massachusetts, as in many states, parents are involved in determining safe and acceptable models that local schools will adopt in the fall. Questionnaires and surveys were sent out to parents to indicate what models parents would be most comfortable with. (https://edsource.org/2020/california-school-superintendents-navigate-safety-concerns-conflicting-guidance-as-they-plan-to-reopen-schools/635555). In many states and school districts, there have been proposals for in-person, hybrid and full remote learning. There are arguments for and against each of these learning models. In all, there is no uniformity on how schools will resume in the fall in districts. In several districts, there is the possibility of seeing a mixture of different models of learning as schools resume. The pandemic has imposed on everyone a new normal that is likely to be the norm in a long time.
After speaking to more than two dozen parents and a number of students across different states, the two major concerns they have expressed are safety of the students and their mental health in the midst of this pandemic. Parents have expressed fear of infection either while on the bus ride to school, in class or on the playground. They have equally wondered about the mental stability of their children as they deal with all the changes that are going to take place and are already taking place. Some parents are also concerned about the quality of instructions their children will receive as many students may be forced to either engage in remote, hybrid or in-person learning.
As a result of these concerns, Nigerian Parents Magazine takes a deeper dive to bring to you what to expect and the changes that are coming your way as your children return to school this fall. Our findings are generic as it is impossible to give you a complete breakdown of what changes are taking place in each district and each state.
Learning Models: There are a number of different learning models or protocols that different school districts are proposing or will adopt as schools resume in the fall. School districts are making decisions on what model they will adopt, first, by the prevalence of cases of COVID-19 in the state and second, by what parents perceive as safe for their children.
The most popular models are in-person, different forms of hybrid and remote (virtual) learning.
In-person model requires the students to be physically present in school. The hybrid model requires a combination of physical presence in school on some days of the week (or having a rotating week in school) and remotely learning on other days of the week (or having a rotating week learning remotely). This model offers in-person and remote learning combination. The third model is full remote learning or virtual. Remote or virtual learning offers a full virtual learning from home. Besides these 3 models, there are suggestions that school districts stagger start times. For instance, 50% of the students’ population may be assigned to the first 4 hours of in-person learning and the other 50% assigned to the second 4 hours of in-person learning.
The state of Indiana suggests having elementary students do in-person while the secondary students do distance learning. In Massachusetts, there is a strong indication that different school districts are going to adopt the different models or combinations of the different models within the same school districts as schools resume in the fall. In Omaha, Nebraska, the school district has offered a plan whereby only half of the students will be in school at any given day. Half of the students will attend school on Monday and Tuesday; the other half will attend school on Thursday and Friday. Wednesday will see a rotating schedule. On Wednesday half of the students that are not at school, would learn remotely or virtually. New York City had originally adopted the hybrid model but recently settled for a virtual model. The city of Chicago will start with remote learning while Paulding County School in Georgia had resumed with an in-person model only to shut down after several students became infected with COVID-19. The District of Columbia Public Schools, the Fairfax county Public schools in Virginia and Public Schools in Maryland have announced that all schools in the fall will be fully virtual-remote. (https://www.the74million.org/dc-public-schools-is-latest-district-to-announce-all-virtual-start-despite-federal-pressure-in-its-own-backyard-to-reopen-10-things-families-need-to-know/)
The different models are, however, greeted with divergent opinions from parents and teachers. For example, the local WSB-TV2, Atlanta, reported that some parents protested a few weeks ago that the districts allow their children return to school for in-person learning in the fall. ((https://www.wsbtv.com/news/local/atlanta/parents-plan-more-back-to-school-protests-metro-atlanta-today/) On the other hand, some teachers’ unions are pushing for classes to start at home in the fall contending that some school buildings are old and are not equipped with ventilation systems that can protect both the students and teachers from coronavirus. (https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/07/30/metro/states-largest-teachers-union-pushing-all-classes-start-home-fall/). It is certain that all across the nation, we’d see a combination of different learning protocols and models as schools resume in the fall. Some of the protocols, as we have already seen, are not driven by science or by parents’ desires but by political undertones.
Before arriving schools: It is almost certain that most school districts across the nation will be expected to ask parents to self-check their children’s temperature before leaving their homes for school, which includes before boarding the school buses in the morning. This is part of the new normal that health authorities believe will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools. Several school districts are going to require all students to have face covering before arriving at school according to CDC guidelines.
Classrooms set up: Classrooms across the nation schools are definitely going to look a lot more different as schools resume in the fall. A number of school districts are putting plans in place to maintain social distancing in the classrooms. Part of the arrangement will be evident is spacing the student in the classrooms, assigning students a seat to allow for social distancing in the classrooms. In Colorado, students’ desks will be face forwarding. In Georgia, gymnasiums, auditoriums and outdoor spaces will be used to allow students to spread out. In Omaha, half of the class will be in class on any given day. The Omaha model calls for assigning students to go to school on certain days of the week according to their last names. For instance, students whose last “names start from A through K would attend school every Monday and Tuesday. Those starting with L through Z would attend school every Thursday and Friday. Wednesday would rotate between groups” (https://omaha.com/news/local/ops-outlines-plan-for-fall-school-reopening-with-only-half-of-students-in-buildings-at/article).
As class sizes are reduced as some parents may opt for either remote or hybrid learning, this would allow for more spaces to be created in the classroom to enable more spacing. Specific seats would be assigned to students in the class and in some districts, face masks would be required at all times while in the class, especially where appropriate social distancing is not possible. Some school districts would make “exceptions for students due to medical and/or behavioral reasons” and children under the age of 2. This is also part of CDC guidelines. (www.the74million.org/article/roadmap-to-reopening-face-coverings). Massachusetts suggests “facemask breaks” when students can maintain 6 feet apart.
Early introduction to technology: With COVID-19, most students have been introduced to early use of technology that they would not have been introduced to. For example, when most schools were shut down in March and students had to learn remotely, first and second graders in some states were introduced to using technology (Zoom, Google meet, Google Classroom, YouTube and various apps) to do their learning. As it is, this trend is most likely to continue as schools resume in the fall depending largely on what learning models the districts offer and/or what parents chose to go for. As a result of this trend, schools across the nation are making plans to acquire thousands of laptops, iPads and chrome books with pre-enabled Wi-Fi to distribute to students.
Busing: There are several changes to transportation to and from school. Several states require (or are going to require) students regardless of age, “except for students due to medical and /or behavioral reasons”, bus drivers and monitors to wear face masks while on the bus. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) requires that “students wear cloth face coverings when seated less than 6 feet apart while riding a bus or carpooling”. In Massachusetts and several states, members of the same household are allowed to sit on the same row of seats while on the bus. Otherwise, one student per bench is advised, and alternating sides for each row in order to maintain 3 feet of physical distancing. Windows in the bus must be kept opened at all times except when it is not possible due to inclement weather (www.doe.mass.edu/covid19/on-desktop/2020-0722transport-guidance.docx). As part of the recommendation from the State of Massachusetts, school districts are advised to add bus routes, stagger bus schedules, consider alternative transportation options such as “ family-provided transportation, walking and biking”. Several school districts are going to require that specific seats are assigned to specific students on the bus to limit exposure, interaction and make contact tracing easier in an event any student is infected. Also according to the CDC guidelines, all frequently touched surfaces in the bus should be regularly cleaned and disinfected. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/cloth-face-cover.html)
There is also the expectation that hand sanitizer and extra face masks be kept in the bus in the event that students forgot or lose their face masks in the bus.
As a result of alternating school days and schedules as in districts like Omaha, the number of students riding the bus would be reduced thereby creating more room for social distancing in the bus.
Recording School Attendance: Recording school attendance in the era of COVID-19 takes a different shape as compared to the time before the pandemic. Many school districts are still working out what will constitute attendance and some parents are asking the districts for flexibility. Ordinarily, attendance would constitute students being physically present in class but in the time when different learning models are presented, attendance takes different shapes with students learning remotely. In the scenario where a student is learning remotely, a student just logging in to the lesson, submitting daily assignments at a specified deadline, interacting with the teacher one-on-one or participating in a group video conference would be considered present.
Few things to Consider as Schools Resume
According to Van Schoales (Chief Executive Officer of the nonprofit “Action Tank” A+ colorado), there are a few things parents should consider as their children head back to school this fall, either as in-person learning students, hybrid learning students or remote learning students. These are the things that may be helpful as parents navigate through the new normal (https://www.the74million.org/article/schoales-would-i-send-my-kid-to-school-this-fall-some-things-to-think-about-and-some-advice-for-families-facing-this-dilemma/)
No one size fits all: by the time of resumption, parents would have known the model of learning the school district settles for (or what parents have chosen for their children, as many districts may give parents the option to choose what models they want for their children). Parents need to know from the schools what plans the schools have in place should the situation change either for better or worse. The plan should include what the school plans for individual students or classrooms.
Plan for the worse: In as much as we all know that the virus is going to be here for a while, and we do not want to be pessimistic, parents should have plans in place should things deteriorate in school. Districts and schools may have plans on what to do if condition changes but the onus will fall on parents to take care of their wards. It is good to plan ahead in a situation where there is an outbreak in the school, how to take care of the children at home considering that parents also work. A number of schoolteachers, who are also parents, are making negotiations with their schools and districts on how to take time off or make up for lost time if they have to stay home with their children if an outbreak occurs.
Do not make choices based on politics: As it is already reported in several school districts in certain states that school superintendents are making school policies based on politics prevalent in the areas, ignoring what has been proven scientifically. Nigerian Parents Magazine is advising parents to adopt what has been proven scientifically to work for the safety of their children and keep politics out of their decision-making. There have been instances where wearing a facemask has been left to the individual to decide. However, CDC guidelines ask and have encouraged everyone to wear a face mask to mitigate the spread of the COVID virus and to protect oneself and others when keeping 6 feet from others is not possible.
Focus on information in your community: It is important for parents to stay informed on the incidence of COVID virus and testing in their community. Most districts based their school return and learning models on whether there is an increase or decrease on the cases of COVID-19 in their districts. It is possible that by the time parents are reading this, their school district would have changed from the learning model they originally adopted due to either an increase or a decrease in the incidence of COVID-19 in the district.
Online Learning Hucksters: As in many cases, there are people who cashed in on unfortunate situations. There are many fraudsters online hawking learning resources that are nothing but fraudulent. Parents are advised to check learning resources that are being advertised and promised to deliver excellent results to be sure they are authentic and beneficial to their children. The best resources so far are the local libraries. Many town and city libraries have developed resources in response to COVID-19 to keep the children engaged.
In whatever school district you are, Nigerian Parents Magazine wishes all our parents and children a safe return to school in the fall.