Richmond: 6 Things Schools Should Be Doing Now To Ease The Chaos And Stress When Students Go Back To Class In The Fall
Richmond: 6 Things Schools Should Be Doing Now to Ease the Chaos and Stress When Students Go Back to Class in the Fall
The challenges faced by public schools during the spring were highly stressful and chaotic. However, it is expected to be even more challenging this summer as schools grapple with how to schedule and organize classes amidst the pandemic. In addition, parents are trying to find schools that meet their specific needs.
Already, there are reports of schools planning to significantly reduce class sizes through various strategies. These include alternating days of in-person instruction or offering year-long virtual classes for some families. Regardless of the chosen strategy, there will inevitably be families who are unable to make it work due to job constraints or concerns about the school’s health and safety measures. This will lead to numerous emotional phone calls from parents requesting further accommodations, while schools must make difficult decisions regarding where to draw the line.
To help minimize conflicts when the new school year begins, schools can take the following six steps:
1. Conduct a survey of families to determine their needs and expectations. This survey should address whether families prefer 100 percent online instruction, if they have job requirements that prevent them from being at home with their children, or if they have someone at home with health conditions that put them at risk. Gathering accurate estimates of the number of students in different situations will aid in designing a reopening strategy for the fall.
2. Survey teachers and staff to understand their preferences, expectations, and constraints. It’s important to identify employees with medical conditions that may prevent them from physically returning to work, those who have a personal preference for virtual work (without a medical need), and those who prefer to be back on-site. Different schools may receive varying survey responses based on the age demographics of their teachers and staff.
3. Collaborate with school facility professionals and local health authorities to ensure a safe building environment for the fall. Determine the maximum number of students each classroom can accommodate, explore options for staggered start times, establish protocols for regular cleaning and disinfection, and investigate the possibility of upgrading ventilation systems. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and resources from institutions like the Brooklyn Laboratory School can provide valuable guidance. Close collaboration with local officials and professionals who understand the community’s specific needs is essential.
4. Develop a strategy that best aligns with the needs of students, families, and employees within the limitations of the school’s space and budget. If the building can accommodate all students and employees safely with necessary modifications, following a regular schedule would be ideal. However, if that’s not feasible, alternative options must be considered. These may include morning and afternoon cohorts, every-other-day cohorts, alternating weeks of in-person instruction, or a combination of on-site and virtual cohorts. While it may not be possible to please everyone, efforts should be made to design options that work effectively for the majority of people.
5. Inform families of their available options and request their selection no later than six weeks before the start of the school year. This provides sufficient time for families, school leaders, teachers, and staff to make plans. With a six-week notice, school leaders can tackle the logistical challenges of reopening, families can make necessary arrangements, and teachers and staff can understand what is expected of them.
6. Adapt the instructional approach to ensure continuity regardless of the delivery method. Ask teachers to envision ideal lessons for 100 percent online, 100 percent on-site, and mixed settings. Identify common elements across these formats and encourage teachers to plan their instruction in a way that allows for successful implementation regardless of the context. Given the possibility of changes during the school year, flexibility will be crucial.
The complexities faced by school communities this summer and fall may feel overwhelming. This six-step list of suggestions aims to provide helpful guidance and emphasize that decisions regarding instruction delivery are closely tied to the unique needs of each school’s families, teachers, staff, and physical infrastructure. What works well for one school may not be applicable to another in the same neighborhood. It is important to empower each school to make decisions that are best suited to their specific circumstances.
The importance of this matter cannot be overstated – it affects the education of children, the employment of parents, and the overall health of everyone involved. It is crucial that we promptly gather information on the needs of our families, teachers, and staff, allowing each school to make well-informed decisions about the options they can offer. By doing so, we can effectively manage the stress that comes with returning to school this coming autumn.
Greg Richmond, a strategic adviser at Bluum, a nonprofit organization based in Boise, Idaho, is an expert in this field. He is also the founder of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and has previously served as the chair of the Illinois State Charter School Commission.
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