Taking the Nation’s Temperature

More than half of Americans surveyed by U.S.A. Today/Ipsos support a range of proposals for reopening schools next fall. Nearly two-thirds said they think it is likely that schools will reopen in the fall, yet fewer than half support returning to school before there is a coronavirus vaccine. And a vaccine is not expected until next year.


According to an EdWeek survey conducted in late May, nearly 2 in 3 educators (65% of 1,907 total) polled say they would prefer that schools remain closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The remaining 35% of educators say reopening schools should occur and we get the country going again, even if that means more people would get the coronavirus.


Thirty-six percent of teachers, principals, and district leaders say they have a physical condition that puts them at greater risk of adverse effects of the coronavirus. These educators with pre-existing conditions were also the most likely to say they would leave the profession, if necessary.


If schools reopen in the fall, more than half of parents with a school-aged child said they were very or somewhat likely to switch to at-home learning. Two-thirds or more of parents would be likely to ask their child to wear a mask at school, and say their child would likely have difficulty complying with social distancing at school, according to the survey report.


Social Distancing

The EdWeek poll revealed that another concern of educators is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) precautions won’t be adhered to, such as social distancing, sanitation, and mask-wearing. Twenty-four percent of teachers, principals, and district leaders say they’ll leave their jobs if schools reopen without these kinds of measures in place, which would exacerbate an already growing teacher shortage.


According to the recent EdWeek poll, 35% of educators surveyed say social distancing measures will make it very difficult to have all students in the school at the same time, meaning they’d need to use “extreme approaches” such as double or staggered sessions to pull it off.


But that assumes students will abide by the social distancing measures. Some teachers question whether younger children will be able to maintain social distancing altogether. And what about food sharing, a favorite pastime of children. How are teachers supposed to control that?


Wearing Masks

Language teachers have expressed a concern that the requirement to wear masks in the classroom would compromise their students’ ability to learn. “English is not my native language, and when I was learning it, I counted on watching my teacher’s face and mouth to really understand the words,” says Leila Kubesch, who teaches English to seventh and eighth graders and accelerated Spanish to eighth-graders.


What About the Economy?

For many parents, it is simply unthinkable that their children’s schools won’t open. Employees remaining at home with their children will mitigate many businesses’ ability to function at full capacity. If “reopening the country” is to be realized, then children must return to school.


And children, of course, are not the only ones in schools; there are about 3.2 million public-school teachers nationwide, and an untold number of aides, administrators, food-service workers, custodians, guards, and school-bus drivers whose financial situations will worsen if the schools don’t open.


What About our Children’s Education?

Everyone agrees that the cost of keeping children home can be high, educationally, psychologically, and socially. Lost instructional time is hard to recapture, and it is expected that high-school dropout rates will climb even higher.


To be sure, the rapid implementation of distance learning programs and remote therapy has proven highly successful. However, for some students and teachers, this is new, and for most, learning online doesn’t replace the classroom experience with a teacher. Although there are many online schools, homeschooling is not for everyone.


The Funding Problems

Almost all the proposals—including another recommendation from the CDC, that seats be left empty on school buses—will require money and, so far, the funding is not there. Unfortunately, the financial trajectory is moving in the opposite direction as most states are speaking of deep budget cuts.


Tony Thurmond, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, announced that, for all its brainstorming, the state’s schools “cannot reopen safely” if planned cuts, amounting to more than fifteen billion dollars, go into effect. And while the states are hoping for federal aid, as of yet, there hasn’t been enough forthcoming.


The Bottom Line

The decision to close the schools in the first place was taken with great trepidation. And the decision when it comes to reopening schools will require no less, and perhaps even more. We can only hope that every governor fully understands everything involved in this weighty decision, and will exercise excellent judgment.