“SCHOOLS MUST OPEN ON THE FALL!” Donald Trump tweeted (about three days after declaring that schools are teaching students to hate the United States).
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos tweeted: “American education must be fully open and operational this fall.”
DeVos didn’t actually use the word “school,” but Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran certainly used it when he ordered that all Florida schools should open traditionally for at least five days a week in August.
In May, many people were operating in the — well, “assumption” might be too strong, so let’s say “fervent hope,” that life would more or less return to normal by the fall, and the schools with it. But now the first day of school is approaching, and no one is quite sure how to handle it. Teachers point and point and point to the many ways that school in a Covid-19 world faces some real problems. At the same time, all kinds of people (most of whom don’t actually work in schools) are declaring that schools need to open. Juliette Kayyem, a former official with the Department of Homeland Security, says the United States has made the mistake of not calling schools “essential infrastructure” and calling for a “surge of public support” for schools.
But if officials really want US schools to be fully open and operational, and also reasonably safe, in the fall, they will have to put money where their mouths are.
These are just some of the non-negotiable costs of safely reopening schools.
Equipment. Many classrooms have been limping for years with hand sanitizer and tissues provided by the teacher or parents. Schools will need a considerable supply of basic supplies, such as disinfectants, gloves, and masks. Other specialized equipment (partitions for desks, classroom dividers and hallways, etc.) may be necessary for the particular situation of some schools.
Training. At this point, it’s clear that a lot of people are a little confused on how to effectively use a simple PPE like masks and gloves. Each school will implement new policies, and it will take much more than a short one-hour briefing. What each district must do is spend a day, two, or three doing a dry test of the new normal, with district staff and officials serving as students. Note: don’t forget to train all your substitute teachers.
Infrastructure. Spring taught us that few districts really have the juice to carry out large-scale distance learning. If a school hopes to lean on a combined model in the fall, they will see how to give all families access to reliable equipment combined with reliable Internet connectivity, in addition to addressing adaptation problems for students with special needs. This will also add to the long list of training problems.
Personal. Social distancing means smaller class size, which means more teachers on staff. The same goes for support staff, like bus drivers. If you are going to increase the number of surfaces to be cleaned, as well as the frequency and intensity of cleaning, you will need more cleaning staff. You’ll need to figure out how to protect your vulnerable staff (and staff with vulnerable family members – do you have any idea how many colds elementary school teachers bring home?).
You will need additional staff just to handle the new procedures. Fifteen first graders who go to the restroom on a socially spaced line stretch more than 84 feet; A teacher cannot monitor that group alone, nor can she lead only a few students at a time while also controlling the rest. In addition to more nurses. More Counselors And all of these staff additions will be above all the people who are about to decide that none of this is worth the risk and trouble, so they are pulling out right now.
Things we don’t even know yet. We have never done this before. If we start down this path, we will be affected by unforeseen costs beyond what we imagine.
There are other issues that no amount of money will solve, and it’s a list big enough for you to give you your own post later this week.
But there are also some basic non-negotiable costs that cannot be covered with a simple edict and a wave of the hand. None of that will be cheap, but any elected official who orders the reopening of the schools without offering a real plan to finance the mandate is simply pushing for catastrophic failure.