Home > Uncategorized > I Was Open to Partial Re-Opening… But Now Opening Virtually Makes the Most Sense

I Was Open to Partial Re-Opening… But Now Opening Virtually Makes the Most Sense

August 1, 2020

As posted earlier this summer, I offered some ideas to the Vermont School Board on how schools could open in a phased fashion that would provide face-to-face instruction for the youngest children, hybrid instruction for middle school aged children, and a completely flexible set of options for high school students. News stories I read yesterday and today and conversations and email exchanges with my two daughters have led me to change my mind: schools should begin planning NOW to open virtually and each school district should develop contingency phase in plans as opposed to contingency close down plans.

Yesterday’s stories described spikes in COVID 19 cases across the country despite the efforts of Governors to impose quarantines and a general effort on the part of the populous to wear masks and maintain social distancing. The one that particularly caught my eye dealt with the reaction of the Governors in New York and New Jersey where they are considering slowing down the reopening of businesses in light of recent spikes in their states and what they are witnessing across the country. It seems foolish to contemplate opening schools a month from now when the trendiness for the disease are moving in the wrong direction and all the medical advice suggests that at least 14 consecutive days of flat or diminishing cases are needed to consider reopening. Even New Hampshire and Vermont, two states that seemingly accomplished the flat-line status needed to reopen, are witnessing a modest but clear uptick in cases according to the latest data from each state.

Another story from yesterday’s news also gave me pause. A recent report from the CDC on an overnight camp in Georgia underscores the reality younger children DO get COVID 19 and may unwittingly spread the disease! Here’s an excerpt from the report:

…SARS-CoV-2 spread efficiently in a youth-centric overnight setting, resulting in high attack rates among persons in all age groups, despite efforts by camp officials to implement most recommended strategies to prevent transmission. Asymptomatic infection was common and potentially contributed to undetected transmission, as has been previously reported (14). This investigation adds to the body of evidence demonstrating that children of all ages are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection (1–3) and, contrary to early reports (5,6), might play an important role in transmission (7,8).

Then this morning’s New York Times reported on the experience of an Indiana school district that was among the earliest to open in the country. Titled “A School Reopens, and the Coronavirus Creeps In“, the story describes how a school encountered a COVID case in the opening hours! Here are the opening paragraphs of the article:

One of the first school districts in the country to reopen its doors during the coronavirus pandemic did not even make it a day before being forced to grapple with the issue facing every system actively trying to get students into classrooms: What happens when someone comes to school infected?

Just hours into the first day of classes on Thursday, a call from the county health department notified Greenfield Central Junior High School in Indiana that a student who had walked the halls and sat in various classrooms had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Administrators began an emergency protocol, isolating the student and ordering everyone who had come into close contact with the person, including other students, to quarantine for 14 days. It is unclear whether the student infected anyone else.

The article notes that in light of these kind of experiences and in light of the fact that coronavirus is clearly NOT under control in almost all states that more and more regions are deciding to close schools and offer only remote learning. The plaintive response of a Greenfield Central Junior High School parent explains why that is the case:

One father whose daughter goes to the middle school with the positive case said he felt conflicted about his three children attending classes in person. Few people in the community are wearing masks, said the father, who asked not to be named because he worried that his family would face backlash.

“I have all these concerns,” the father said. But he has to commute at least an hour to work every day, so remote learning was not a good option for his family.

It’s just a mess,” he said. “I don’t know what the answers are.”

I’ve pondered this question and I do have an answer: plan now for remote learning and work with parents to find a way to make it work for them! School buildings will still be standing and if they are needed to serve as a safe haven for some children, a child care center for parents who work, or an internet hot spot for others some kind of plan can be worked out… but the default should be learning from home.

For 29 years as a School Superintendent in New England, Maryland, and New York I had to decide whether or not to open schools when it was snowing or snow was forecast. Whenever it was a close call I would opt on the side of safety. Why put thousands of children and hundreds of employees at risk in order to avoid an additional day in June? The Greenfield Central Junior High School parent is right— it IS a mess. But at this juncture it is not a mess of the school district’s making and opening can only make things worse. Opening school has the potential of adding to the mess and creating a problem where none exists.

And MAYBE the spike in cases, the infections and deaths of people who publicly declaimed the requirement to wear masks, and the examples set in other countries will get our populous to wake up to the need for masks and social distancing. When that happens, America will bend the curve and schools can begin a phased reopening.

  1. August 1, 2020 at 8:11 pm

    Thank you for providing sane leadership during an insane time. I hope you can continue to lead by encouraging other Superintendents in the area to spending limited time and resources: 1. staffing up tech support, 2. adapting existing best practices in remote learning (no time left to innovate) and assessing 3. standardize live streaming requirements for both instructor delivery and student attendance.

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