Thoughts on a New School Year, Part 2

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Photo by Peter Simmons on Pexels.com

[Note: the thoughts and ideas in this blog post are my own and are not intended — in any way — to represent my employer. This post represents my thoughts as an individual and I do not have any personal insight into what July will bring — yes, our students return to school in July]

In the past month, I have written a couple posts about what the 2020-21 school year might look like. First, What Will Next School Year look like and then, Moving Foward: Thoughts on a New School Year. This post is a follow-up to “Moving Forward.”

Since writing my last post, the Arizona Departement of Education has issued COVID 19: Guidance to Schools and Families (framed as suggestions). A quick review of these “suggestions” illustrates that they are primarily taken from the Centers for Disease Control’s Considerations for Schools. They even include the CDC’s decision tree, Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic (reformatted as a table/checklist).

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Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic – CDC Decision Tree

There is a great deal of soft language (encourage social distancing, as feasible, etc.) in the CDC, and therefore the State of Arizona’s guidelines. However, if you are familiar with the constraints of a typical public school it is nearly impossible to imagine a “near normal” scenario where the intent of the guidelines is practical, or even possible. Student numbers, class sizes, and a shortage of teachers present significant hurdles to safety.

So where does that leave us? At this time, there is a great deal of political pressure to open and it is doubtful this desire will be backed with the necessary resources to successfully follow safety guidelines. Schools would need additional assistance from the state and federal government and, at the very least, assurances from states about budget stability. In my opinion (again, I have NO inside information), we will most likely see schools open “as normal” with increased sanitization efforts and attempts to social distance students (but these will be extremely difficult to enforce — especially on a large campus). There are certainly reasonable steps we can take to mitigate risk (and it is likely some of those will be implemented), but some will extremely difficult — i.e. social distancing in classrooms and at lunch, limiting exposure times (i.e. time in an enclosed space), effectively keeping spaces sanitized throughout the school day, etc. I have a lot of concerns (too many for a single blog post), but it is probably best to keep those to myself. Maybe our efforts will be enough. I certainly hope that is the case.

In my last post, I mentioned the Boulder Valley School District’s COVID-19 Reintroduction Model. I really like this one.

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Boulder Valley School District Phases of Reintroduction

There is a balance here that acknowledges inequities, allows for student learning and attempts to limit risk. It provides learning opportunities for all, supports those on the margins, and accounts for physical and emotional needs. In addition, schools would be prepared for distance learning, or a safe “normal” opening — depending on local circumstances and timing.

In addition, BVSD has identified reintroduction priorities for each phase of their plan.

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Boulder Valley School District Reintroduction Priorities

The devil is always in the details, but this is probably the most comprehensive school return FRAMEWORK I have seen. This kind of phased return makes a lot of sense. Measured steps forward with a flexible timeline that can be adapted to community health concerns. Circumstances (and funding) are certainly different in various parts of the country, but I would love to see this plan given serious consideration — with adaptations to meet local needs.

However, based upon comments from state leaders, I am preparing to make a “near normal” return to school (whatever that means) and do it as safely as possible for our students, our staff, and our community. As I said earlier, there are things we can do to mitigate risk, so I will focus on the things I can control at my school.

Regardless of “how” the 2020-21 school year begins, I stand by the seven ideas I shared in Moving Forward: Thoughts on a School Year. In addition, I keep referring back to Larry Ferlazzo’s page: The Best Posts Predicting What Schools Will Look Like in the Fall.

There is a lot to think about.

Please comment, or connect with me on TwitterI would love to be a part of optimistic and creative discussions about how school leaders can identify and tackle the challenges of a new and dramatically different school year.

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