What will school be like for your child this fall? We know that we can’t answer this question for you; it’s a deeply personal decision based on local mandates, risk tolerance, financial means, and much more. But, we’ll walk through the considerations for school in the fall together as we collectively grapple with it.

Parents don’t feel safe sending their children back to school in the fall

In a survey conducted by American Enterprise Institute:
📈 20% of parents feel safe sending their children back to school in August or September
📈 29% would wait until the winter or spring of 2021
📈 10% wouldn’t send their children back at all this coming school year
📈 25% wouldn’t send their children back to school until a vaccine is available

White parents (34%) are twice as likely as non-white parents (19%) to say they feel comfortable sending their children back to school in August or September. Republicans (34%) are twice as likely as Democrats (16%) to feel comfortable sending their children back at the start of the school year.

It’s a nuanced conversation

Reopening schools safely this fall, and keeping them open, is more than simply declaring it will happen. As in everything about the pandemic, this is a nuanced conversation.

Despite the risks involved, many consider reopening imperative. Remote learning this Spring did not go well. Teachers had to adopt new delivery platforms with very little preparation, many kids did not have access to technology, and parents question how much their kids actually learned remotely. Not to mention, the stress carried by parents to manage remote learning and be parent, teacher, and employee all at the same time.

If school does not open this fall, parents may be stuck home again. Their ability to earn income could be curtailed if their kids cannot attend school. And there are real questions about equity in learning when kids are not in the classroom. It’s a vicious cycle.

But, there is reason to be hopeful. Several countries in Europe and Asia have successfully reopened their schools in-person without causing big virus outbreaks. They implemented protocols and precautions to ensure students would be safe and the virus would not spread. However, we can’t really use these countries as effective models for U.S. schools.

Various approaches being considered for school in the fall

While the federal government is strongly encouraging schools to reopen, this decision is made on the state level. Here are the options states are considering:

100% in-person school for all students

Pro: Many kids learn better in school and need additional supports that are challenging to offer remotely, including meals and a safe environment. Going back to 100% in-person learning provides consistency for kids and allows parents and teachers to fall into a regular routine. Lastly, parents can work.

Con: This approach puts teachers and staff, especially vulnerable older staff, at substantial risk. Much remains unknown about how the virus spreads among children, and how likely they are to transmit it to adults and other kids. Schools will need to spend millions to sanitize and clean every day and make sure that students and staff are adequately safeguarded — this is money that public schools don’t have, especially now that they’ve also suffered COVID-19 budget cuts.

For your consideration:

  • Can I do my job from home?
  • Does my child’s school attendance put any family members at risk?
  • Will my child wear the mask and maintain social distancing?

 

A hybrid model that combines in-person with remote learning

Pro: Kids will connect in person with teachers and classmates a few times per week in learning pods. Each pod will attend 1-3 days of in-person instruction, and spend the rest of the week learning remotely. Large spaces such as cafeterias, auditoriums, and outdoor spaces will likely be used to ensure social distancing between students.

Con: While this approach suffers from all the pros and cons of 100% in-person instruction, many teachers we’ve spoken with say teaching kids both in-person and remotely will be an impossible task for them. It is equivalent to doing two very different jobs. It is unclear if any additional funding will be given to schools, and whether school leaders will provide resources and adequate training to teachers for this to work.

For your consideration:

  • Can I work from home a few days per week?
  • If I’m at work five days per week, will my child be safe learning at home?
  • Do I have time to supervise remote learning?
  • Will my child focus and learn during remote school?

 

Remote learning only

Pro: With COVID-19 cases spiking, some states or cities are considering new shelter-in-place orders. The situation is extremely fluid. Meanwhile, 100% remote learning provides consistency for kids, and the ability for parents, teachers, and kids alike to fall into a regular routine.

Con: A likely fallout of this plan is parents’ ability to earn their livelihoods. If children learn from home, who will take care of them? If there are two working parents, is one parent’s job more disposable than another’s? More than 9 million schoolchildren in the U.S. lack an internet connection, and budget cuts have made it difficult for schools to provide a 1:1 environment. And, most schools do not have experience with quality remote or digital learning.

For your consideration:

  • Can we maintain a schedule that provides the balance for work and learning?
  • Will my partner help to supervise remote learning?
  • Do we have too many distractions at home?
  • Will my child stay focused and learn?
  • Will my child feel like they’re losing out because they’re not in the classroom?
  • Will my school district provide a laptop or tablet for remote learning?

 

100% in-person learning pods

In this last approach, each class is divided into smaller “pods” of students. Each pod does everything together — study, eat, play — and is completely isolated from other pods.

Pro: Each pod gets in-person instruction 2-5 days a week.

Con: Participants will be restricted to the social bubble of the pod. They are only as safe as the care that other pod members and their families take in maintaining social distancing, mask wearing, and other safety measures.

For your consideration:

  • Is everyone in the pod maintaining the social bubble?
  • Will learning be consistent from pod-to-pod or will some kids fall behind?

 

Social distancing with 100% in-person attendance at schools just isn’t possible

Prepared Parents is hearing from superintendents and school leaders that the square footage of schools simply will not accommodate both 100% in-person attendance and social distancing. One of these will have to give.

Epiphany Prep Charter School serves 757 students in Transitional Kindergarten through 8th grade in Escondido, CA. A full 95% of the students are Latino and 95% are low-income. The school’s vice president, Dr. Jose Manuel Villarreal, took a look at the logistics of returning to school. Here’s what he told us:

“I did a mock classroom set-up and at most, we can fit 12 students six feet apart with one teacher. In our lunch area, it’s 24 students in the inside area. We host 757 students, so to imagine that we can come back, there’s just no way.”

This article was originally published by Prepared Parents.

GreatSchools.org is here to support you as you support your child’s learning this summer and fall. Check out our free summer learning calendars for kids in kindergarten through fifth grade and our grade-based daily suggested schedules on our Coronavirus support page. Want more? You can also read about your child’s life in the time of coronavirus.

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Updated: July 20, 2020