If and when it happens, and hopefully it will as it does normally in August and September, the reopening of elementary and secondary schools will provide a big emotional boost to our nation. It will also allow more people to go back to work, which in turn will provide a boost to our economy and help to pull it out of the current nosedive. However, there are many issues that need to be overcome. Let’s see if we as a country can make it happen.
Covid-19 is the main obstacle to schools and their ability to operate again. Schools are not conducive to social distancing – elementary schools especially. On the other hand, kids don’t seem to be as susceptible to Covid-19. Nevertheless, schools need to make adjustments.
This “Guidance for Social Distancing for Youth and Student Programs” by the Minnesota Department of Health provides a good list of things schools will need to consider and do. I would be other states’ Health or Education departments will put together similar guidance statements. Staggering school opening times, cafeteria availability, and how and when to allow especially kids in lower grades to go to the bathroom and drink from the water fountain are issues that need to be thought through and dealt with.
More Needs but Less Money
Here’s the problem: All of the ideas such as staggering starting times or going to morning and afternoon shifts require more money to be spent on the schools at exactly the time states’ tax revenues are plunging due to the economic shutdown. A school district can’t hire additional instructors if there isn’t money to pay them. Also: if money somehow does appear and schools are able to hire more teachers, will the schools be able to let those teachers go when life returns to normal perhaps 1-2 years from now? The various school systems and teachers’ unions are not set up to be flexible during times of crisis such as this. School funding in many states was a struggle even before this. I can’t imagine how bad it is now.
For what it’s worth, here is what I think will happen with the opening of school during August and September of this year:
- Schools will open on time, which will be a big morale boost;
- Students will have to wear face masks, which they will hate;
- Teachers will be asked to increase their workload and time they spend with the students, which they will begrudgingly comply with;
- Sports and other extracurricular activities will be severely curtailed, especially in areas where money is very short;
- The ability for teachers to teach and students to learn will be negatively impacted, but it still will be better than doing remote learning;
- Little kids will probably be scared and/or have issues understanding why things are the way they are;
- Parents will have to maintain flexibility in their own work schedules to accommodate for their kids’ not being at school all day or every day;
- Which in turn means that employers will need to continue to allow for workers to work from home;
- Which means that work productivity will not be at a level that it could be without all of this.
Look for schools to provide a boost, but the magnitude of the boost will be dulled by the continuing issues related to and caused by Covid-19.