This question is on the agenda of many governments and the minds of millions of people worldwide. As pandemic lurches into its 12th month, many students are still stuck in remote learning, many teachers fear returning to the classroom in person, many parents are burned out, and some of them are forced to quit their jobs to take care of their children. The question of whether or not it is safe to return to physical schools remains open.
Since the beginning of the pandemic research from around the world has indicated that people under 18, and especially younger kids, are less susceptible to infection, less likely to experience severe symptoms, and far less likely to be hospitalized or die. However, the reasonable concern is that if schools let young students in, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic, they may infect teachers, school staff and their families.
At this point probably most of us know the general safety rules in public places: wear a mask, keep a safe (6 feet) distance, and wash hands. However, there are other principles that define safe school reopening during this pandemic:
Schools should be transparent and report all COVID-19 cases regularly. They will need to find an appropriate way to screen everyone coming to campus – students, parents, teachers and staff – and ask those with symptoms to stay home. Everyone will need to keep masks on all day, remember to wash and sanitize their hands and try to keep a safe distance. Usually, the community infection rates affect infection rates in schools.
Schools should develop a plan for clear communications before returning to face-to-face instruction. Districts should prepare a detailed plan for communicating about cases and within-school transmissions if they occur. The guidelines of how students, staff, and visitors will adhere to the 3Ws for the entire school day should be clear to all depending on the age of students and their ability to follow the guidance.
Schools should be sufficiently staffed to clean classrooms between groups of students. Both teachers and students should feel safe to remain in a classroom with other individuals. Students may be divided into smaller groups to allow physical distancing and reduce contact. Activities including sports, the arts, and other extracurricular activities need their own detailed plans for masking, physical distancing, and handwashing. Some of these activities might be reduced or canceled.
Above all, schools should remain flexible. They should consider special-needs settings and taking additional precautions. Plans should be developed locally, as some schools may need extra resources, like additional personal protective equipment (or PPE), flexible hours, additional face shields etc. If a class is divided into several cohorts, the teacher will have to adjust to teaching half the class remotely and half in person.
Even if schools reopen, they might not stay open, or even if they stay open, not all students might be there. There are a lot of moving parts that make it really hard to figure out how and when schools are safe to return to normal operation.
Despite the complexities of reopening schools and the benefits of remote learning, many people agree that remote learning has its drawbacks, especially for more disadvantaged families. Children may not have the quiet space or fast internet required for online learning, those who have learning differences may find it hard to adapt, parents are often forced to juggle their jobs and helping their children with school or sometimes even quit the job. Parents who feel overwhelmed by all responsibilities that they have to deal with can turn to our online tutors at Askademic for help. We provide one-on-one classes for students of different ages, at an affordable price and convenient time. Every new user gets two free classes.
Some people may agree or disagree with the plans to reopen schools. Safe reopening requires a lot of decision-making and thorough preparation. Taking evidence-based steps before reopening schools and following through routinely once they are open will make classrooms safe again for students and staff.