Getting Ready for Back-to-School During COVID-19

No matter where you stand on the debate whether schools should re-open in the fall, we can all agree on one thing: whatever happens, it needs to be done safely. With a new school year fast approaching, there’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks regarding the pros and cons of re-opening schools. There has also been a lot of planning regarding how this can be done in a safe manner. In this blog post, we want to highlight the different methods that are being proposed, and some key strategies to make sure which ever method is followed, we can have a successful and safe learning experience.

There are basically two methods to re-opening schools: virtual learning only, or a blended learning model. First and foremost, it’s important to be able to adapt to changing circumstances. Whether your school district is adapting a virtual only model, or a blended learning model, alternative plans must be set in place. It’s impossible to predict what will happen, and we can’t expect that whatever plan is in place come the start of the school season will be the one in place by its end. Things change very quickly and it’s important to have alternative plans when this happens. Make sure you know your school’s alternative plans and be prepared to enact them at a moment’s notice.

Virtual Learning Only Model

This model is exactly what it sounds like. All learning will take place in a virtual environment. In this model, the schools will remain closed and teachers will conduct their lessons virtually over an Internet-based video conferencing program. This model is by far the safest option as it maintains physical distancing requirements as well as virtually eliminating any danger of a virus spreading between teachers, their students and their peers. However, there are a lot of downsides to this model. For one, many if not most students benefit from the in-class environment. Learning from home can be difficult, both physically and emotionally. Teacher’s will no longer be able to maintain order within their classrooms, as they will not have access to their students’ environment. Parents may also be limited by their own work schedules, and may not have access to alternative childcare options.

Additionally, there are many households that do not have a reliable Internet connection. In this case, there are a few strategies we’ve compiled below.

  1. Teachers can opt to record their lessons ahead of time and share them with their students through any method that is required. For instance, if students only have access to the Internet during a specified time, they can access their teacher’s lesson when it works for them.
  2. Establish a conference-calling system that uses their home phone connection. There will be no visual component to the lesson, but instead teachers can talk in a group setting, or one-on-one with their students.
  3. Most schools have an Internet connection established in every classroom. Students with unreliable Internet access could then be allowed entry into the school during specified days and times.

Blended Learning Model

This model is one that most schools are considering at the moment. It combines in-class learning with at-home virtual learning. There are many benefits and drawbacks to this model. For instance, rigorous safety measures must be met in order to maintain a safe classroom environment. With this model, parents still have the option to opt out and follow a virtual method instead.

With a blended learning model, students will be in school for only a few days per week. The class size will be much smaller and social distancing requirements will be in place. The rest of the week will be virtual learning from home. We suggest limiting the time in school to strictly what is imperative for in-person learning. For instance, priority can be placed on homework assignments with very limited time spent on the lesson. This option will help limit the amount of time spent in the classroom, and will also help students develop critical thinking skills. Designated times can be set for students to call or e-mail their teachers for additional help.

Opening the schools even for a few days per week still poses a risk. That’s why there are a set of guidelines established in order to maintain a safe environment. Below is a list of those guidelines as well as our strategies to help maintain them.

  • Maintain physical distancing at all times. Designate stairways as up only and down only. Do the same for classrooms that have two entries. If a classroom has only one door, establish a protocol for entering and leaving, allowing students to do one or the other while maintain physical distancing. Limit the number of students per classroom, spacing the desks 6 feet apart with plastic partitions around them.
  • Wear a face mask at all times, except when eating and drinking. Students will eat at their desks. Places like the cafeteria, gymnasium and library will remain closed.
  • Provide adequate opportunities for hygiene. Have alcohol-based hand sanitizers mandatory at school entrances and in every classroom. Establish a routine that promotes periodic handwashing. Someone must be responsible for wiping down surfaces each day. This includes desktops, chairs, door handles, and light switches.
  • Increased testing of students and staff. This includes daily temperature checks. Have only one entrance and one exit to and from the school open and monitored always. Don’t rush through the testing process. Don’t penalize late attendance. Ensure each person entering and leaving the school is wearing a face mask and uses the hand sanitizer.
  • Consider private transportation or increase bus routes. Limit the number of people allowed on the bus at one time. Establish a routine that students sit staggered from the back to front in the order that they enter and exit the bus. This will eliminate the opportunity for students to pass by each other. Have one child per seat and staggered so there is always one empty seat in front of them, behind then, and next to them. Students must sit closest to the window to maintain distance from the aisle. Allow only one student to stand in the aisle at a time.
  • Have helpful guideline posters visible throughout the classrooms and hallways. Use these as helpful reminders to students and staff to maintain physical distancing, wearing their masks and washing their hands. You can download these posters here.
  • Helpful Guidelines

    UNICEF, in partnership with The World Health Organization (WHO) and IFRC have created a set of guidelines for students, parents, teachers, and school administration to follow in order to prevent and control COVID-19 in the classrooms. You can access the full guide here. In it, there are several helpful checklists for each individual to follow in order to maintain the safety guidelines established. Find the checklists for school administrators, teachers, staff, parents, caregivers, and students here.

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