5 takeaways for returning to school – Harvard Health Blog
School districts in the United States are in a period of deep uncertainty, which will likely persist throughout the 2020-2021 school year. Many agree that distance education in spring 2020 was piecemeal and sub-optimal. Now, despite a declared universal commitment to full-time, in-person, and high-level education, many states have increasing rates of COVID-19, and teachers and parents share deep health concerns . We’ve already seen a rapid and seismic transition from the start of this summer – in June, many schools were planning to open full-time for in-person learning – to the near-universal adoption of hybrid or remotely. In fact, as of August 26, 24 of the 25 largest school districts in the United States will begin their school year providing distance education only.
Seek a perspective on a safe return to school
I started the summer thinking that I could somehow help merge the fundamentals of public health and education for a safe return to school. I teach a course at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health on Major Public Health Campaigns. My daughter, an urban education specialist, lectures in my classroom on the value of parent-teacher collaboration. As a grandparent of three little boys aged 7, 4 and 3, and as a parent and stepfather of two children and their spouses facing extremely difficult decisions about school and daycare, I am personally invested.
A colleague from a large social service agency told the story of parents working in the hospitality industry. They have to leave their 6 and 8 year old children alone at home during the day to try to learn from a distance. My own story – working years ago as a union babysitter and steelworker – gives me a sense of connection to teachers. And for the past three months, while writing guidelines for principals in Massachusetts and across the country, I’ve spoken with parents of school-aged children, nurses, and superintendents who sailed the area. a raging debate about a safe return to school. The view differs depending on where you stand, but I have distilled a few lessons.
Five points to remember: steps and missteps back to school
Sleepless nights, anxiety and collaboration. In all of my conversations, whether with a school principal, parent, grandparent, or school nurse, people have shared the same stories of a succession of sleepless nights, coupled with the most difficult that they have taken in their professional life. Parents, in particular, talk about their anxiety, panic, exhaustion, helplessness, and lack of support when trying to come up with a reasonable strategy for their children. At the same time, the potential for collaboration is abundant. Parents and teachers are natural allies. They can jointly advocate for federal and state resources to ensure that children in our country can ultimately return to safe schools.
Lack of metrics. School principals, for whom I have gained immense respect, have received little guidance on what parameters to use when deciding whether to open schools now or close later. They will need data on the number of cases in their community, trends over time, and positive test rates for their areas and areas closest to their districts. Parents are also looking for full transparency as districts review community settings when making decisions to close or reopen. There will be successful school openings and stimulating schools. All interested parties need a forum to share their stories with each other.
Tutors, mentors and collective space. Providing computers and access points is important for children and families who need them, although we must also bear in mind that some families clearly do not have Internet access. Many families will need tutors, mentors, facilitators and a collective space to be skillfully nurtured in a remote environment. Low-income communities should be funded to promote and create community learning centers that will be needed for the millions of children who will not be educated in the classroom.
Masks and face coverings of fabric. Wearing a mask, nicknamed the “provisional vaccine”, must be the cornerstone of a national plan to reduce transmission in schools and in collective spaces. How to reinforce the wearing of the mask? For parents, teachers, and day care providers, the clock starts now as we vigilantly practice wearing the mask before and after starting in-person classes and then maintain this practice throughout the school year . School leaders, parents, and teachers can work together to create signage that reinforces the social norm of mask-wearing in schools and on school buses, and encourages children to do so.
Openness to the evolution of science and wisdom beyond our borders. Most importantly, we should all be humble about the limits of knowledge in the early stages of a pandemic and expect changes as scientific understanding evolves. Initially, many experts believed that children did not contract and transmit the virus. There was little reason to say this, as nearly every school in the United States had closed by March 17 at the latest. We can look elsewhere for models, but schools in Europe started outside and never had more than 15 children per class. If it weren’t for the outbreak that hit much of the country at the end of June, we might have tragically progressed to full in-person reopening, with 25 kids in a classroom and 66 kids on a school bus. . Recently, when schools have opened in the United States and abroad, we have been inundated with reports of diagnosed cases among students and teachers. However, the basic public health principles of social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing may prevail if they are consistently applied.
Schools cannot safely open if community transmission rates are high. The reopening of schools must take priority over the opening of bars, indoor restaurants and large social gatherings indoors. We all have a collective responsibility and a social pact to each other to fight for a healthy and full return to school for students and teachers in our country.
To learn more about back-to-school issues, listen to our “Live Better, Live Longer” podcast with Alan Geller, “Back to school: it’s never been more complicated.”
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