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What is the future for schools?

NC3 had a chance to talk with NC RESA to find out what our schools are working on to plan for a safe re-opening in the fall:

Since our schools were shut down in mid-March due to the COVID-19 virus, educators have worked hard to adapt to the unique challenges that resulted. We have provided food to our students, devised remote learning programs, opened disaster relief childcare centers, and much more. As we finish this school year remotely, we are also planning for the reopening of schools this fall, which will require determined, creative problem-solving by all of us.

Re-opening schools will happen in a manner that is safe and responsive to the needs of families and communities will involve unique challenges.

As educators, we are not public health experts. We consciously defer to the guidance of public health professionals. What we do know is that families and communities need schools ready to reopen as soon as public health officials tell us it is safe to do so.

We have been reminded recently just how vital schools really are.

Schools connect students with peers and mentors, direct youthful energy into productive activities, teach essential academic skills, and give overwhelmed parents room to breathe and work. Our school leaders have already forecasting how we will be required to operate in the fall focusing on school operations, whole-child supports, school personnel, academics, distance learning, and other general considerations.

We are all asking what it will take to get our schools safely ready for students this fall.

Amid enormous uncertainty, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this work. An immense challenge is determining what public health accommodations and adaptations will be required, how schools will put those requirements into practice, how community organizations can provide support, and what the path to reopening will look like in Newaygo County. We are wrestling with many questions, among them:

• Will we be limited to a reduced number of students in a classroom?

• With grim budget predictions, how we will afford staff to serve reduced class sizes? • Will social distancing be required?

• Are desks or tables that accommodate 6 ft. of social distancing available in each classroom? • What additional spaces are available (e.g., gym, lunch room, auditorium, etc.)?

• Will all students be allowed back full-time? Or will a virtual component be required to reduce the number of students in schools at a given time?

• What cleaning protocols are currently in place?

• What will lunch service need to look like? Grab and go? Eat in classrooms?

• How will students social distance on school busses?

• What measures will we implement to protect our vulnerable students?

• How many devices (tablets, laptops) does the district have in inventory?

• How many students have access to a device that is not issued by the district and what type? (e.g., tablet, laptop, desktop, mobile phone)?

• How many students have access to reliable internet at home? (Newaygo County estimates are less than half of our students have access as of this writing.)

• And many other questions!

Given that school systems have neither the capacity nor the budget, and cannot reasonably be expected to plan for the current situation, state and federal officials must help provide the resources that schools need to help weather the crisis and create a safe road to reopening for our students.

A major consideration on our radar are students’ social and emotional needs.

Students are experiencing COVID-19 differently. The isolation brought about by social distancing can exacerbate children’s depression and anxiety. Many are going through significant trauma because of school closures by potentially losing friends and family members, experiencing the insecurity created from parents losing jobs, or from abuse, violence or neglect. Trauma supports are crucial, not only during this period of remote learning, but also in the next school year.

There are only four months until the beginning of the 2020–21 school year.

Our plans both as a state and a county are evolving as the guidance evolves and as we learn more about COVID-19. We are researching what other counties have done to safely reopen their schools, and are learning from the -experiences of our own children and teachers. We are making the most of those months to be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.

When we get the green light to open our doors, we will be ready.

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