All of us concerned with PreK-12 education are laser focused on the present. Every day brings issues we not only did not anticipate, but potentially have never considered before. From moving to virtual classrooms to establishing fair grading policies to balancing the logic or rebating tuition with the reality of still paying salaries, school administrators are bombarded daily with difficult questions and few resources for answers. Well, here is another question: What about next year?
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…”
With apologies to Robert Frost, it is clear that as we look toward the 2020-21 school year that we are facing a fork in the road, and unlike the two roads in Frost’s poem, our fork is more like a pitchfork with multiple tines. Since we do not know how long the COVID-19 danger will last, we cannot predict what instruction next year will look like. Therefore, we need multiple plans. Not just a Plan A and Plan B, but perhaps a C, D and even E!
In order to control expectations, let me say at the outset that I will not be presenting a definitive answer. No one can. It is like trying to decide whether to take a car or an airplane on your next vacation without knowing where you want to go. What I can do is provide some resources that might assist in your design.
Plan A, of course, is that school looks a lot like 2018-19. Students and teachers in a classroom, after school activities resumed and parents back at work. I think we must start here. There are going to be significant additions to the old model, especially around social distancing, facility sanitation and personal hygiene. I also hope there are significant changes to instructional methodologies, given all that we have learned this year about remote instruction.
Plan B assumes that the virus is still uncontrolled and social distancing is still required and, therefore, we are still conducting 100% virtual education. What have we learned during this chaotic year that can be implemented and improved in a more orderly way for next year? With some extra time in the next few months, can reasonable policies regarding grading, homework, attendance, and promotion be constructed? How can we move closer to equity for all students, regardless of their access to technology, or supportive homes?
Plan C finds school open, but operating with extreme measures of social distancing: desks 6 feet apart, perhaps plastic dividers between desks, no cafeteria with lunch in the classroom, classes limited to a maximum number of students, such as 10, requiring staggered groupings (i.e. one group on site M-W-F, the other group on T-Th, with the remote students on line in real time) and on and on. This plan requires significant adjustments to staffing, student schedules, classroom methodologies and even cleaning procedures.
Plan D assumes that we will see periods of “normal” school (Plan A) and periods of remote instruction (Plan B). If the year starts out with stay at home restrictions lifted, Plan A is in force. But we need to be prepared for a resurgence of the virus and a sudden return to remote instruction. Rather than scrambling to move from one scenario to the other, we must be ready to make the transition seamless and predictable. Policies must be thought through, developed, and implemented for when your school must close again.
“…And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could…”
Having various plans is obviously good for the smooth operation of the school year, but it is also critical for your parents’ sense of confidence in the school. Each school not only needs to prepare for multiple contingencies but how to communicate those plans to the parents. Parents need to know that their lives will not be thrown into chaos if unfortunate circumstances arise again. This proactive communication will also go a long way in promoting retention of students and even attracting new students from schools that have no plan.
Here are some resources available to help you work through the creation of various plans for next year. Anecdotally, Denmark has begun opening classrooms and some of the precautions they are taking are in this article from CNN. There is also this AP article about California schools.
More functional resources are also available. Dr. Tim Uhl, the Superintendent of Catholic Schools for Montana wrote a blog, Doubt, Trauma, Faith, that was published in the April 19 issue of Catholic Schools Matter and provides a concise summary of the situation and numerous links to helpful articles and tools. Dr. Tim includes numerous links in his blog, but two are particularly helpful in planning. There is a planning outline from Director of Catholic Schools John Galvan, Diocese of San Diego. While primarily concerned with this year, it is very relevant to the issues of 2020-21. Another helpful link is An Open Letter to Independent School Leaders written by two professors at Kennesaw State University, particularly the latter part of the article, subtitled Health Considerations for 2020-21. One additional resource is the article How to Reopen Schools: A 10-Point Plan Putting Equity at the Center. Published by Getting Smart, an online media channel for educators, this article is aimed primarily at public school administrators, but it provides helpful advice for administrators of all schools.
There are other resources out there now and will be many more as this year draws to a close and more people start to think about next year. Keep in mind that your current and potential parents are thinking about next year right now and wondering what you are going to do about all the various scenarios out there. Be prepared, and let people know that you have a plan. Be decisive, yet flexible. Be in control. Parents need to know that their children are in safe hands.